A year ago, the F-35B was in the doghouse owing to lackluster performance in testing. Now, however, that has changed. The jets are up, operating and ticking off test points. And the timing for the turnaround is potentially fortuitous for the project as only miles inland in Washington, officials overseeing the F-35 development program are trying to defend it from bean counters on the prowl for savings in the defense budget.
In the final days of initial shipboard trials of the F-35B, the Pentagon gave a group of media a firsthand look at the testing Oct. 18. BF-2 and 4 are likely to leave the ship this week and return to NAS Patuxent River, Md.
Media were transported to the ship, which circles in a 20x20 mi. box off Wallops Island, Virginia, via MV-22.
photos and videos: Amy Butler/AWST
Once onboard we received briefings on the status of the ship and the aircraft.
There have been many questions from Ares readers about why the aft section of the deck where spots 7-9 is darker than the front of the deck. Ansis Kalnajs, a Navsea test director, explained that the rear portion of the deck had been poured at a later time than the front, accounting for the difference in color. Both are made of standard nonskid material used on ship decks. However, there is a small portion in spot 9 of Thermion, a newer deck material that officials are testing out on the Wasp. Kalnajs says Thermion may prove to be a better future material owing to reduced maintenance demands. The nonskid deck material now need frequent replacing, he says.
The Thermion is in the area where you see the lighter yellow centerline.
Media spent a few hours onboard viewing multiple vertical landings and short takeoffs. Thus far, testers onboard the ship say the two aircraft have accomplished more than 60 vertical landings and STOs. BF-2, the first to arrive, conducted its first VL Oct. 3. BF-4 followed shortly after. Specific numbers were not available.
Though formal data hasn’t yet been analyzed, Tom Briggs, the integrated test team lead at Pax who is helping to oversee the trials on the ship, says that the aircraft is performing as predicted by the models in terms of heat ingestion on the ship. Officials had been concerned that the F-35B would reingest its own hot exhaust, causing problems for the propulsion system. However, thus far, Col. Roger Cordell, F-35 naval variants lead at Pax River, said that there have been no performance impacts resulting from hot air ingestion. Overall, he says, the testing has gone better than expected. “We feel like we are running where we intended to crawl,” he said.
During this visit, BF-4 was conducting the testing; BF-2 had “returned to the beach” at Pax River for repairs, said Capt. Brenda Holdener, CO of the Wasp. Officials onboard did not say what repairs were needed. Last week, BF-2 was fixed after a fuel leak was discovered. Many routine repairs have been conducted on the ship, according to Briggs.
Among the repairs conducted on the ship were replacement of a flat tire. Incidentally, Briggs says that the aircraft are using tires at a slower rate while on deck than during testing at Pax. There, testers found they were having to replace tires faster than expected in crosswind conditions.
Maintainers also replaced an upper lift fan door actuator on BF-4 while on the ship, Briggs says. The aircraft was down for maintenance Sunday mid-day for the fix and back flying Tuesday, he says.
Overall repairs “haven’t gotten worse out there” than testers are seeing for operations at Pax, Briggs says.
Incidentally, I snapped this pic of a Sierra landing on deck as well.