There aren’t many official details yet, but from the photos and videos trickling out of the public affairs shop, the Marines’ F-35B seems to be proving itself early in its shipboard trials aboard the USS Wasp. The Navy released a second video on Wednesday showing the highlights so far of the jet’s takeoffs and landings; it opted for “Let the bodies hit the floor” as the soundtrack, but jet-builder Lockheed Martin went with a more generic metal accompaniment.
We can infer a few things from the announcements and media so far: The B’s complicated lift-fan and all its crazy Swiss watch hatches and ports and vents seem to be handling the salt air as designed. The video snippets of it taking off are especially interesting — look at how quickly the jet’s afterburner moves from the horizontal to the vertical as it picks up speed, and note the way its tail also begins in a normal mode and then angles all the way down. Compare that to an AV-8B Harrier takeoff, in which most of the jet stays in place as its smaller engine exhausts push it up and off the deck.
But there’s a lot we still don’t know. Will all these components work together the right way every time? And remember that these tests were as much about the Wasp as they were about the jets, and on that score, the Navy issued a very telling photo on Wednesday:
Click the image to see a high-res version. See that long black rectangle on the aft section of the flight deck, inboard of the port side aircraft elevator? That’s where the Navy installed (updated) a new patch of non-skid against the B’s powerful jet blast, which skeptics have long warned could damage the ship’s flight deck. It still looks fine here because the jet is making its first landing — and in fact, the B may have been able to set down on a normal flight deck without incident. The problem is no one knows what will happen to the flight decks after dozens and then hundreds of landings. What kind of new maintenance will they need? What precautions will crews need to take?
We’ve got our ear to the ground for these and any other new details about the B’s shipboard testing, so stay tuned.