The U.S. Navy has begun operational testing of the supersonic fifth-generation F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, the U.S. Marine Corps variant capable of vertical or short takeoffs and vertical landings without requiring a catapult launcher, aboard the America-class amphibious assault ship, USS America, the lead vessel of her class, according to a U.S. Navy press release.
Five F-35Bs landed on the deck of the USS America on October 28 for operational testing. October 28 also saw the first launch of a F-35B off the flight deck of an America-class amphibious assault ship. The amphibious assault ship will embark two additional F-35Bs for developmental tests bringing the total number of F-35Bs aboard the ship to seven. The USS America is specifically designed to accommodate the F-35B, along a host of other aircraft such as MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, CH-53 Super Stallions, and UH-1Y Huey helicopters.
“As we modernize our fixed-wing aviation assets for the future, the continued development and fielding of the short take-off and vertical landing, the F-35B remains the centerpiece of this effort,” said Lieutenant General Jon Davis, the deputy commandant for aviation of the U.S. Marine Corps. “The America class of amphibious assault ship design enables it to carry a larger and more diverse complement of aircraft, including the tiltrotor MV-22 Osprey, the new F-35 Lightning II, and a mix of cargo and assault helicopters,” he added.
The planned tests aboard the USS America will evaluate F-35B Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) operations in a high-sea state, as well as shipboard landings, and night operations. The testing will also involve simulating extensive maintenance on the F-35B aboard an amphibious assault ship.
“During the next three weeks, we will be completing critical flight test for both Developmental Test (DT) and Operational Test (OT). The F-35 Pax River ITF and VX-23 will be conducting DT work that will establish the boundaries of safe operation for the F-35B in the 3F configuration,” a senior naval officer said. “VMX-1 will be conducting OT operations focused on preparing maintenance crews and pilots for the first deployment of the F-35B aboard USS Wasp (LHD 1), scheduled to start in just over a year.”
America-class amphibious assault ships are 844 feet (257 meters) long with a 106-foot (32 meters) beam and weigh approximately 44,000 tons. The USS America can accommodate up to nine F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, four AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters, four CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, 12 MV-22 Osprey, two MH-60S Search and Rescue helicopters and 12 so-called defensive weapons systems including two rolling aircraft missile RIM-116 Mk 49 l launchers; two Raytheon 20mm Phalanx CIWS mounts; and seven twin .50 cal. machine guns. The ship has a crew of about 1,200 and can transport up to 1,800 troops and their equipment to far corners of the world.
The U.S. Navy is planning to induct a total of 11 America-class amphibious assault ships into service in the years ahead.