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.
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.