ABOARD USS GEORGE WASHINGTON: “It makes it real.” That’s what Tom Briggs, acting chief of test for the Navy, said as he watched F-35C after F-35C launched from the ship’s steam catapults during a long Monday.
Briggs, who has led much of the testing for the Marines’ F-35Bs and the Navy’s F-35Cs, was visibly proud as he spoke of the five Navy test pilots who were doing their carrier qualifications aboard the USS George Washington, steaming somewhere off the southern Virginia coast: “For those of us who have been with the program for a while, this is fantastic.”
The Navy, which will be the last of the three American services to declare their version of the Joint Strike Fighter ready for combat, filled two rooms below decks with gear to check more than 500 test points. The F-35Cs arrived the day before a C-2 Greyhound full of reporters flew out Monday to observe and interview. In addition to the five test pilots getting qualified, the first dozen operational pilots were aboard to get carrier qualified.
They’ll be testing the plane’s Electronic Warfare capabilities and its ability to land and take off in crosswinds and with asymmetric bomb loads. The pilots are checking out the third generation helmets to ensure the brightness of the symbology displayed does not interfere with their ability to see the carrier as they land at night — they are waiting for moonless nights before doing the tests. The seven aircraft aboard will be doing maximum weight and maximum power takeoffs.
During the George Washington‘s cruise, Navy Capt. James Christie told me the 70 maintainers aboard will work with Pratt and Whitney to do a complete engine swap of the enormous F135 engine. They’ll take it out and replace it. There’s been no reason, Christie told me, to do the engine replacement for the last 10 months because the “engines are very reliable.”
The ship will also test the performance of the Delta Flight Path software aboard the F-35C which allows the plane to routinely grab the Three Wire as it lands on the carrier. I did see at least two Two Wire landings while the new pilots were doing their qualifications. The software is very similar to the Magic Carpet software being installed on the Navy’s newer F-18s.