F-35B perform maiden Ski Jump with ASRAAM and Paveway IV weapons

The Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35B Lightning II test aircraft has performed maiden land based Ski Jump with on board UK specific weapons.

The BF-2 aircraft piloted by Peter "Wizzer" Wilson performed the Ski Jump with Paveway IV LGB & MBDA ASRAAM short range air to air missile, from the Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Maryland, United States.

Four 500 lb Paveway IV laser guided bombs and two MBDA ASRAAM were integrated on external under wing pylons. Both of them can also carried in the internal weapon bay.

This external weapon load out will be employed when payload outweighs the stealth requirements of a mission.

Photo : Arnel Parker

The UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) already uses ASRAAM and Paveway IV on its existing Tornado and Typhoon combat jet fleet. The successful tests are a step towards full interoperability between the current and future fast jets that will be used by the RAF and the UK’s Royal Navy from 2018.

Flight trials with these UK made weapons were commenced in 2014. The first guided Paveway IV release from F-35B was achieved in December 2016, while the F-35A fired the ASRAAM for first time in March 2017.

Both of them will be certified as a part of the Block 3F software release scheduled for May 2018. UK also plan to integrate the MBDA Meteor long range missile and the Spear anti-tank guided missile on to its F-35B fleet in future.

The STOVL F-35B is the most expensive variant of the F-35 family costing about 135 million each and also the least capable of the three.

UK plans to procure 138 of these world's first supersonic STOVL aircraft, for operating from the two under construction ski jump equipped Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers (Royal Navy) and land based bases (RAF).

For more than 30 years, the U.K. has used the ski jump approach to carrier operations as an alternative to the catapults and arresting gear used aboard U.S. aircraft carriers.

The shorter UK carriers feature an upward-sloped ramp at the bow of the ship. Curved at its leading edge, a ski-jump ramp simultaneously launches aircraft upward and forward, allowing aircraft to take off with more weight and less end-speed than required for an unassisted horizontal launch aboard U.S. aircraft carriers.

The F-35B STOVL operation is made possible through the Rolls-Royce patented shaft-driven LiftFan® propulsion system and an engine nozzle that can swivel 90 degrees when in short takeoff/vertical landing mode. Because of the LiftFan®, the STOVL variant has smaller internal weapon bay and less internal fuel capacity than the F-35A. It uses the probe and drogue method of aerial refueling.

The UK will declare F-35 maritime Initial Operational Capability in 2020. Each HMS Queen Elizabeth can embark up to 36 F-35B aircraft, which is 280 meters, or nearly 1,000 feet long, and displaces up to 65,000 tons of water. It is so big that each of its two propellers weigh 33 tons.