WOLF ATC & Landing Systems experts, F-35 Pax River ITF engineers certify carrier landing system aboard Italian carrier
The flight deck crew casts no shadows; the low, dark cloud ceiling completely covers the sun. The aircraft marshaller, donned in a yellow life preserver, raises the bright orange collar of his Marina Militare jacket to shield his neck. Rain collects in the pad eyes (padeyes).
Some miles away, above the gray blanket, an F-35 pilot is preparing to recover aboard the currently out-of-sight rectangle of real estate that he is sure is below in the middle of a vast ocean.
Mother Nature is agnostic to the mission at hand or the platform employed. Naval aviators and air traffic controllers can’t afford to be neutral to the elements.
This notional scenario highlights the need for an instrument landing system, or ILS, that helps pilots and aircrews, and that are trustworthy for their accuracy.
In March, the Naval Air Traffic Management System Program Office (PMA-213) wrapped up key Precision Approach Landing Systems (PALS) certifications for the Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (CVH 550) while the ship was underway off the U.S. eastern seaboard for F-35B developmental flight tests with the F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (Pax River ITF).
Led by the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Air Traffic Control and Landing Systems (ATC&LS) Division, a team from PMA-213 boarded Cavour with the F-35 Pax River ITF test team.
The PMA-213 team, who work at Webster Outlying Field (WOLF), embarked in February under COVID-19 restrictions, and conducted their certification with the help of an F-35C that flew to the ship from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23.
Once underway, the PMA-213 team waited for a break in the ITF’s developmental flight testing to perform the PALS certification for the Joint Precision Approach Landing Systems (JPALS) and the SPN-41B instrument carrier landing system (ICLS).
NAWCAD ATC&LS Division’s Katie Prelog, team lead for the trip aboard Cavour, and Kevin Hinton and Jeanette Frisbey, NAWCAD ATC&LS technicians, said while underway their mission included a functional check of the system, running 11 different tests designed to check all operational capabilities. It also included aligning the system, which required an aircraft.
With the F-35C overhead, Prelog and Hinton stood in Cavour’s Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC), sandwiched between the SPN-720 precision approach radar consoles of Final 1 and Final 2, to input glideslope adjustments for the SPN-41B unit. Neil Winston, ATC&LS flight test engineer from the F-35 Pax River ITF Basing and Ship Suitability team, joined them to perform the Category III certification, which required flight testing of the system.
Prelog said with the successful completion of flight procedures for JPALS and SPN-41B on Cavour, “we are recommending to the ship that they certify both the JPALS and the SPN-41B systems.”
Following the certification, Winston sent a recommendation letter to Cavour’s leaders. The report contains a summary of results from the flight testing, and a recommendation for, among other items, when to have the system recertified.
“The incredible achievement of the entire team to get both of these systems certified on Cavour cannot be understated,” said Capt. Kevin, Watkins, PMA-213 program manager. “Facing the unprecedented lockdowns and travel restrictions posed by COVID 19 last year, our Navy team was forced to improvise to ensure the JPALS and ICLS systems were installed and checked out on Cavour before she sailed across the Atlantic [for 051250F-35B development flight tests off of the U.S. coast]. Developing and utilizing remote technical assistance and installation procedures successfully for the first time, especially on a first of type install on a coalition partners’ ship, was a result of our teams’ perseverance and the incredible collaboration with Italy’s shipyards.”
Italy’s JPALS procurement marks the first international sale of the JPALS system which, when paired with SPN-41B, provides unprecedented landing capability for coalition partners operating F-35s at sea, Watking said.
“This is critical to attaining international interoperability amongst the F-35 partner and customer nations, and paves the way for future sales of JPALS for use with other aircraft platforms and in other operational situations,” said Casey Edinger, PMA-213 International Programs deputy program manager.