FUTURE trials of the F-35 stealth jet on the Royal Navy’s new £3.1bn aircraft carrier will take place off the British coast next year, The News can exclusively reveal.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is looking to stage its next set of tests with the supersonic jet in UK waters throughout 2020 as efforts gear up to prepare the warship for her maiden deployment.
The revelation was made by Queen Elizabeth’s commanding officer, Captain Steve Moorhouse, as the 65,000-tonne behemoth continues her current phase of trials with the hi-tech warplanes near Florida.
Speaking to The News, the senior naval officer said if everything goes to plan, the tests in the US will conclude in about a month.
He added as the number of jets increase it would become more ‘routine to operate with carriers around UK exercise waters’
‘This is the last planned period that we will come out to the States to do this,’ Capt Moorhouse said. ‘From next year we will look to do this more often around the UK.
‘Things will start again early in 2020 for Queen Elizabeth with the jets. The drumbeat of jet embarkations will increase throughout 2020.’
Currently there are four British F-35s operating from Queen Elizabeth.
However, this number is expected to increase to about six as the trials programme intensifies.
By the end of the testing period, Queen Elizabeth’s four-acre deck will have as many as 10 F-35s flying from it, Capt Moorhouse said.
And so far, pilots flying the state-of-the-art warplanes have enjoyed the experience.
Lieutenant Commander Matt Fooks-Bale said the jets were a huge improvement over the former Harrier jump jet, which was scrapped following defence cuts in 2010.
Speaking to The News, the 38-year-old aviator said the F-35’s automated systems made it easier to pilot.
He added: ‘The additional situational awareness the F-35 provides pilots is night and day over a Harrier.
‘We had no radar in a Harrier so we were very reliant on external assets to help us out when it came to what was going on outside.
‘Whereas in the F-35 you’ve got a God’s eye view of the world and everything around you.
‘It’s game-changing in terms of the situational awareness the F-35 can give you over the Harriers in the battlespace.’
HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected back in Portsmouth in December. Capt Moorhouse added it was unlikely the ship would return to the city with F-35s on her deck, insisting there would be more training for pilots to conduct in the US.
Queen Elizabeth’s first operational deployment is in 2021.