The News defence correspondent ‘lands’ jet on HMS Queen Elizabeth

Defence correspondent om Cotterill on the jet simulator
Defence correspondent om Cotterill on the jet simulator
HMS Queen Elizabeth, which could one day deploy to the South China Sea, pictured during her first refuel at sea. Photo: Royal Navy

Admiral defends Royal Navy deployments to South China Sea 

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SITTING in the cockpit of an F-35b is like being cocooned inside some sort of futuristic spacecraft.

I’m surrounded by a range of complicated-looking controls; a joystick to my right controls the direction my jet flies in — its pitch and yaw. While to my left there is another bulky lever to boost my speed.

In front there are a number of buttons, too — although nowhere near as many as I thought there’d be.

‘The F-35 is intuitive, it’s seriously easy to fly,’ my instructor Squadron Leader Andy Edgell says confidently.

‘There’s not a plethora of dials, knobs and switches any more.’

‘We can have untrained civilians flying a simulator like this in minutes,’ he adds, with a smirk.

My simulator is a metal skeleton of the real thing, with no canopy and a large computer screen. My mission was to make a safe landing on the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth.

My screen shows me everything, from altitude and speed to what vector of approach to take.

It feels like a computer game — although both my joysticks are bulky and took awhile to get the hang of.

But once I had, landing on the virtual flight deck of the 280m warship became a doddle.

I was able to hover in place before slowing lowering myself down.

The only tricky bit was controlling my speed and adjusting the sensitive steering when I’m hovering.

Surprised, I ask Sqd Ldr Edgell if it’s that easy in the real thing.

‘It’s easier — the plane doesn’t jerk around nearly as much in real life,’ he says.

Perhaps he was being nice. Perhaps not. Either way, if the F-35 is anything like the simulator, the pilots will be in for a treat.