F-35B makes first landing at sea

The Navy and Marines announce an uneventful hop out to a big-deck gator, a major program milestone.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B Lightning II made its first landing Monday aboard a Navy warship at sea, the service announced. The hop apparently was uneventful and the landing, aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, went exactly as predicted.

Per the Navy’s statement: “Marine Corps test pilot Lt. Col. Fred Schenk landed BF-2 at 3:12 pm. “It was exactly like we predicted,” said Schenk. “But that’s because of all the hard work and extensive preparation done by the Wasp and JSF team.”

Now the next step is taking off. And landing again. And taking off again. And making the operation of the B on the deck of an amphibious ship into the routine it must become in order to take the place of the Navy and Marines’ current routine with the AV-8B Harrier.

Continued the Navy:

The first vertical landing is part of the initial ship trials for the F-35B which started Monday and is expected to last two weeks. The tests are scheduled to collect data on the aircraft’s ability to perform short take-offs and vertical landings on a ship at sea, as well as determine how the aircraft integrates with the ship’s landing systems, and deck and hangar operations. This test period, the first of three scheduled at-sea test periods over the course of the development program, will also collect environmental data on the deck through added instrumentation to measure the F-35B’s impact to flight deck operations.

That’s right — as you’ve already read, program officials believe these tests are as much about the ship as they are about the aircraft. But don’t think this isn’t also about the B, of course: It’s been on “probation,” pending a big performance turnaround, and the Marines and Lockheed hope a successful set of trials aboard the Wasp will convince the principal to wipe clean its permanent record.

In real terms, as we’ve seen, “probation” was the inverse of President Kennedy’s “quarantine” of Cuba: “Quarantine” was a lighter euphemism for “blockade” — which is an internationally recognized act of war — just as “probation” was a heavy euphemism for “We’ve got to say something to get these reporters and skeptics off our back.” The Marines, like the Air Force, have no alternative but to pursue the F-35. Cancellation is not an option. So with a warning such as “probation,” the Pentagon hoped it could convince outsiders it was cracking down without the threat of actually ending the dance here, giving engineers the time they needed to resolve the B’s problems.

Department leaders have resisted confirming whether successful sea trials would be enough to lift the “probation” euphemism — but they certainly couldn’t hurt.

Here’s a Navy video of the F-35B making its first landing.