F-35 flight trials continue. HMS Queen Elizabeth Westlant 18 deployment – Part 4

Since the first F-35 arrived on board HMS Queen Elizabeth on 25th September the flight trials programme has continued at pace. There has been a great deal activity on board the ship and this period has been an eventful period for the F-35 programme as a whole. This photo and video essay covers the highlights of the Westlant 18 deployment from the past few weeks.

A US Marine Corps F-35 Jet crashed on 28th September, following an investigation the US has instituted a temporary operational pause while aircraft are inspected for a possible faulty fuel line. The grounding of aircraft following an incident is a routine and sensible procedure and is experienced by most aircraft types at some point. This problem is not evidence of some fundamental flaw in F-35 as some have claimed. The MoD has already issued a statement to confirm the two US-UK jointly-owned ITF jets onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth have been inspected and are continuing to fly. This would suggest the fuel line issue only affects some batches of aircraft or is easily rectified. The nine F-35s at RAF Marham were not programmed to fly this week anyway but are being inspected prior to the resumption of flying.

Suggestions that because the aircraft is so expensive, there should not be any faults with demonstrates a lack of understanding of complex engineering. Sophisticated machinery will not work perfectly all the time, whatever the price tag but it should be noted the F-35 has an exceptional safety record in comparison to other fast jet development programmes. Occasional accidents are part of the nature of fast jet flying and as the number of F-35s in service rises, the likelihood of occasional incidents increases.

The day after the first jet landed on QE, an F-35 flew the first live US combat mission. (The Israeli Air Force is also known to have flown the F-35A in combat missions in the Middle East but details are sketchy.) The aircraft from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit successfully attacked Taliban ground targets in Afghanistan, another sign of confidence in the aircraft.

One of the best Videos RN news teams have ever produced captures the excitement of fixed-wing aircraft flying from a British carrier again

The photo that nearly broke the internet- F-35s operating at night. The fact that the within just 4 days of the first deck landing, night flying was being conducted is a result of years of preparation and a sign of the extraordinary confidence in the aircraft and ship.

HMS Queen Elizabeth takes on fuel during a replenishment at sea with USNS Supply. The task group was also joined by US navy destroyer USS Lassen. RFA Tideforce has yet to sail to join the Westlant group, having apparently failed her operational Sea Training along with unconfirmed reports of teething problems with the Tide class ships.

HMS Monmouth acting as plane guard while flight operations continue. Note how close to shore this is taking place – the city of Baltimore can be seen on the horizon.

HMS Monmouth visited Baltimore and was open to the public for Maryland Fleet Week held from 3rd – 9th October.

Old ships. HMS Monmouth was a former command of QE’s CO Captain Jerry Kyd.

F-35 HMS Queen Elizabeth

Interesting to compare the CGI with reality

US Marine Corps V-22 Osprey lands aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time. These tilt-rotor aircraft have landed on the CVS and HMS Ocean in the past. Many would like to see a UK purchase of this platform for use in the Assualt, Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) or AEW roles. Unfortunately, the high upfront and through-life costs of the Osprey leave it a long way down the list of “nice to have” options when there are other more pressing priorities for UK defence.

The MH-53E Sea Dragon was another type to make a first landing on HMS Queen Elizabeth. At 100ft long and 33-tonnes, the Sea Dragon can carry up to 55 troops and flew in from Naval Air Station, Norfolk. The Sea Dragon is the USN’s biggest helicopter and is mainly used in the mine warfare role.

If an F-35 goes down, who you gonna call? JPR – Joint Personnel Recovery. Merlins of 845 NAS deliver Royal Marines of 42 Commando working up tactics to extract downed pilots and recover sensitive technology from enemy territory (at the USMC Base, Quantico Virginia). 

Note the US Marine Corps personnel from the Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23) who are assisting and helping teach their RN counterparts how to handle the F-35.

Launch sequence…

Landing sequence

Coming into the hover – the jetwash kicks up plenty of spray. One of the reasons carrier aircraft need to be thoroughly marinised to resist the corrosive effects of salt water.


Many thanks should go to the excellent Royal Navy photographers who certainly have photogenic subject matter to focus on but are doing a great job of covering the early days of fixed-wing flying aboard QE. We may admire the aesthetic beauty and engineering brilliance of the ship and the aircraft but more importantly, must appreciate they will become powerful weapons of war. The regeneration of carrier strike capability offers a flexible tool to protect UK interests and, if deployed in the right way, will help to keep the peace and be a force for good in an uncertain world.