The end of september recorded some important events, centered around the future workhorse of the United States and numerous allies. The F-35 fifth generation stealth multirole fighter, had several premieres, both positive and negative.
First landing on HMS Queen Elizabeth
On September 25, two american F-35s landed on the deck of the new british carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to begin sea trials.
Its an important event for the armed forces of the United Kingdom, because after seven years from the withdrawal of Harrier II, fighter jets landed again on a Royal Navy carrier.
The aircrafts, one used for tests an the other belonging to the USMC, are flown by Royal Navy Commander Nathan Grey and RAF Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, and for a period of eleven weeks will perform more than 500 take-offs and landings.
The F-35B, which is used by the USMC, the UK and Italy, is capable to perform short take-offs and land vertically.
Thus, for the first time, an F-35B made a take-off using the ski-jump of the british aircraft carrier.
HMS Queen Elizabeth, commisioned by the Royal Navy on December 7, 2017, has a displacement of 65,000 tonnes and is the largest british aircraft carrier ever built.
Each of the two ships of the Queen Elizabeth class will be able to operate a total of 24 F-35s, representing the standard warload.
The maximum number of F-35 aircrafts that can carried on the deck is 35. In addition to the fifth generation aircrafts, the ships will also host helicopters.
First combat mission
On September 27, two days after the F-35s first touch-down on a british aircraft carrier, the new multirole stealth jet that will eventually replace F-16s in US service has marked another premiere.
At least one F-35B aircraft belonging to the USMC, carried out ground bombing in Afghanistan, thus realizing the first combat mission of an american F-35 jet.
The fighter took off from the USS Essex amphibious assault ship and hit a taliban target using a precision-guided bomb.
After completed the mission, the Marines F-35 return to the USS Essex by making a vertical landing. USS Essex is a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship which can carry six F-35s.
However, this would not be the first mission of the fifth generation fighter. In May, Israel has stated that it used for the first time the new stealth multirole jet in combat missions in the Middle East, but did not give any detail on what those missions consisted off. Most likely, the F-35I Adirs bombed targets in Syria.
The first crash of a F-35
The next day, F-35 checked another first, this time, a negative one.
Friday, September 28, 2018, the day after an F-35B in service with the United States Marine Corps carried out its first combat mission in Afghanistan, another F-35B belonging to the asme category of forces (USMC) has crashed in South Carolina during military exercises.
This is the first crash in the history of the multirole fifth generation fighter, although the F-35As first flight took place 12 years ago on December 15, 2006.
The incident occurred near the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, the pilot ejecting safely, later being medically evaluated.
The F-35 fleet grounded
Following the crash of the F-35B aircraft, the entire US F-35 fleet was grounded for inspections.
It seems that the accident of the new Marine Corps stealth airplane was caused by problems with the engine fuel tube.
As a result, all the F-35s were inspected, an the Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofans were verified. The entire operation lasted between 24 an 48 hours.
All three variants, A, B and C were inspected and, where aprropiate, the faulty fuel tubes were replaced with new ones.
The first F-35 flight took place on December 15, 2006 and the incident that occurred on September 28, 2008, represents the first crash of an F-35.
Although the allies operating the F-35 were announced of the problems discovered at the engine fuel tube, not all of them decidedto ground the entire fleet like the americans did.
United Kingdom has only grounded part of the fleet, while the sea trials of the F-35B on HMS Queen Elizabeth continued.
At the moment, the F-35 is in service with ten nations. The United States will be the only one which will have in its inventory all three F-35 variants.
The United States Air Force (USAF) plans to aquire 1,763 F-35As, and will be the largest operator of the ultra-modern fighter.
The United States Marine Corps (USMC) will have 340 F-35Bs and 80 F-35Cs.
The United States Navy (US Navy) will operate only the F-35C aboard its aircraft carriers. 260 of these models will be bought.
Also some of NATO nations and other important US allies began to receive their first stealth combat aircrafts:
- Australia: 9 F-35A delivered
- Denmark has not yet received any fighter. It will buy 27 F-35A
- Israel has received 12 F-35I Adir fighters which became operational
- Italy received 9 F-35As and one F-35B
- Japan: one F-35A received
- Netherlands: 2 F-35As received
- Norway: 10 F-35A received, of which three were delivered in the scandinavian state
- South Korea: one F-35A received
- Turkey: 2 F-35A received in United States. Due to tense US-Turkish relations, it is not known whether and when the new fighters will be delivered to Turkey. The United States said it will cancel delivery of F-35 to Turkey if the latter purchases the S-400 air defense system from Russia.
Other countries, including Poland and Romania, have shown their interest in acquiring the F-35 in the future.
Also, prices of all three variants of the F-35 have fallen: F-35A costs $89.2 million per unit, F-35B costs $115.5 million per unit and the price of F-35C has been reduced to $107.7 million per unit.
See below how the F-35B compares against other 5th generation fighters and also against the most performant 4th generation fighters:
The Engineer - www.theengineer.co.uk
- F-35 Lightning II tests begin from Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier / Author: Stuart Nathan - The Engineer
STARS AND STRIPES - www.stripes.com
- F-35 makes American combat debut, strikes Taliban target in Afghanistan / Author: Corey Dickstein | STARS AND STRIPES
FlightGlobal - www.flightglobal.com
- Lockheed Martin F-35A price dips below $90m for first time / Author: Garrett Reim | Los Angeles