US Navy Begins First Carrier-Launched Test Flights of F-35C

It’s been a long time in the making, but the U.S. Navy is finally performing carrier-launched test flights of the F-35C. According to a statement by the Navy, a half-dozen of the next-generation fighter jets participated in an initial test flight in conjunction with the USS Abraham Lincoln on August 28, with more test flights planned for the near future.

So, what’s the purpose of these test flights? The Navy says that it’s evaluating the F-35C’s compatibility with aircraft carriers. By performing live test flights — including takeoffs from and landing on an aircraft carrier — the Navy can identify and fix any hazards or problems that may arise. During the evaluation process, the Navy will specifically look at the F-35C’s ability to  coordinate with other aircraft, as well as its ability to perform from a carrier.

When speaking about the Navy’s latest test flight of the F-35C aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, Rear Adm. Dale Horan explained that sailors were initially shocked to see the aircraft aboard their ship. While the F-35C has been around for a while, this is the first time that it has landed on flight deck for an operational test flight.

Until you get an airplane out and mixed with other airplanes, you don’t necessarily grasp those differences,” said Rear Adm. Dale Horan, “For the first two days or so, everybody was: ‘Wow, it’s F-35s!’ And now it’s: ‘Hey, those are airplanes.’ They move around on the flight deck like a Navy airplane moves around on the flight deck. And seeing that seems to look relatively normal.

The  Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II C variant, or what’s more commonly known as the F-35C, is a variant of the F-35 that’s designed with larger wings and foldable wingtips. Although Lockheed Martin has produced several variants of the fighter jet, this is the only variant that’s designed exclusively for use with aircraft carriers. The wingtips can be folded so that the F-35C can be efficiently stored in small spaced, such as hangers on a carrier.

The Navy hasn’t experienced a smooth rollout for the F-35C, however. According to Wikipedia, the Navy is experiencing a variety of problems with the next-generation fighter jet. With its stealthy, high-tech design, for instance, the F-35C requires additional work to repair and maintain. The fighter jet also uses lithium-ion batteries, which have a tendency to explode when not properly handled. These are just a few of the challenges that the Navy is facing with the F-35C’s adoption.