ONE of the Royal Navy’s next generation of fighter jets has been flown by a British serviceman for the first time.
RAF Squadron Leader Jim Schofield got into the cockpit of a F-35C jet on Wednesday for a test flight in the US.
The jets, which are being developed by Lockheed Martin, are due to be flown from the navy’s new Portsmouth-based aircraft carriers which will be operational in 2020.
Sqd Ldr Schofield, a former Harrier pilot, is one of a small band of 20 RAF and Royal Navy pilots currently based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Southern Maryland to test the aircraft.
He said: ‘It’s an amazing aircraft to fly. Of the 80 or so aircraft I’ve flown it has the best handling of all of them. For the UK, it’s a game-changer. We’ve not had the capability of this aircraft before.’
The UK government originally wanted to buy the F-35B jump-jet version of the jets for the new carriers. But this was changed to the cheaper, longer-range F-35C in the 2010 defence review.
Unlike F-35Bs, F-35Cs need a conventional long run-up and will require catapult and arrestor gear to be fitted to the new carriers so the jets can take off and land.
The equipment will cost an extra £1.2bn per ship to fit and the MoD is conducting a study, which will end in December, to decide whether it can afford to fit the gear on both or just one of the new carriers.
Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin has said it addressing a design flaw with the F-35C’s tailhook which led to a test plane failing to catch the arrestor wire once during eight test landings in Florida last summer.
The MoD said it will have six F-35Cs onboard a carrier in 2020, rising to 12 by 2023. A final order has not been placed.