F-35B night vertical landing aboard U.K. HMS Prince of Wales (R09)

U.S. Marine Corps test pilot Maj. Paul Gucwa performs a vertical landing (VL) in an F-35B Lightning II short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) variant strike fighter during a mission to expand the flight envelope for the technique aboard the U.K. aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales (R09) Oct. 29, 2023. Gucwa also performed the first night shipborne rolling VL (SRVL) during the evening’s flight period. Gucwa is one of three test pilots from embarked with a broader team from the Patuxent River F-35 Integrated Test Force (PAX ITF) to conduct flight test during the ongoing developmental test phase 3 (DT-3) flight trials. HMS Prince of Wales, the U.K.’s newest aircraft carrier and biggest warship, is deployed to the Western Atlantic for WESTLANT 23.

F-35 Test Team Performs First Night SRVL Aboard HMS Prince of Wales

An F-35 Lightning II test pilot performed the first night shipborne rolling vertical landing (SRVL) aboard HMS Prince of Wales (R09), the U.K.’s newest aircraft carrier, in Atlantic waters off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard just after 9 p.m. Oct. 29, 2023.

Marine Maj. Paul Gucwa landed in an F-35B short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) variant test jet during carrier qualifications, or CQs. The rolling landing technique being tested is part of developmental test phase 3 (DT-3) underway currently.

Pilots perform CQs in nominal conditions for variables like wind over deck, deck motion, landing speed, and touch down location. The known safest conditions are called the “heart of the envelope.” While Gucwa flew within this, the context of doing so at night was, in effect, an envelope expansion.

“Expanding on the initial work the Pax River F-35 Integrated Test Force (Pax ITF) team executed during DT-1 and DT-2 is the next step in providing these types of increased capabilities to the warfighter, which is what flight test is all about,” said Gucwa, who is also the DT-3 test project officer.

SRVLs are being looked at as an alternate way to land the STOVL jet. If assessed a viable technique, pilots could return to a ship and land with additional weight, for example more fuel or weapons, than permissible for a VL.

The flight trials on Britain’s biggest warship, which are taking place during the ship’s deployment to the Western Atlantic for WESTLANT 23, are designed to gather data that could lead to increased operational capability for the 65,000-tonne ship, for QEC carrier operations, and for the 5th generation joint strike fighter air system of choice for aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, international partners, and foreign military sales customers.

A key ally, the U.K. is the only Level 1 international partner in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. The F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office (JPO) leads the life-cycle management of the F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C variants.

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