F-35s Make First Rolling Vertical Landings Onto HMS Prince of Wales

UK Lockheed Martin F-35B
Credit: UK Navy

LONDON— Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters have made the first Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landings (SRVL) onto the Royal Navy’s Prince of Wales aircraft carrier.

In the latest round of developmental tests integrating the combat aircraft with the ship, currently taking place off the Eastern U.S., F-35B Joint Strike Fighters from the F-35 Integrated Test Force performed the specially developed landing technique onto the ship’s flight deck on Oct. 19. The SRVL combines powered and wingborne lift to enable a rolling landing and stopping with the aircraft’s brakes, rather than bringing the aircraft alongside the ship in a hover and executing a vertical landing.

A rolling landing is seen as increasing the aircraft’s ability to return to the ship with heavier loads such as expensive precision munitions that sometimes would have to be jettisoned into the sea if the aircraft were too heavy.

The use of SRVL is forecast to give the F-35B a bring-back payload gain of around 2,000 lb., the equivalent of four Raytheon Paveway IV precision-guided bombs.

The SRVL was proven on the Navy’s first carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, during trials in 2018, but the latest tests are intended to pave the way for training in the technique to make it available to operational front-line pilots.

Also, the Prince of Wales is the only one of the two ships equipped with a gyro-stabilized version of the Bedford Array, a glidepath alignment cue that allows F-35 pilots to fly an accurate path to the ship’s deck.

The F-35s also have performed the first launches and recoveries from the ship in the aircraft’s so-called “beast mode,” equipped with external stores. Such heavier loads require longer run-ups to the ship’s ski-jump. 

According to the Royal Navy, launches with just internal stores generally can occur from the 350-ft. marker on the deck but fully loaded F-35s need run-ups from the 850-ft. marker near the stern.

The trials, say officials, are about expanding the limits of the F-35 when operating from the new ships. 

“Over the next few weeks, we will work together with the F-35 program to increase the capability of the world’s most advanced fifth-generation stealth fighter alongside the UK’s fifth-generation aircraft carrier,” says Royal Navy Capt. Richard Hewitt, the HMS Prince of Wales’ commanding officer. 

“During this phase of our deployment, we will see the jet develop advanced landing and takeoff techniques, allowing it to recover heavier, turn around faster and launch with more weapons,” Hewitt says

The same deployment also has seen the Prince of Wales working with U.S. Marine Corps V-22 Osprey tiltrotors and UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper helicopters. It also will see the General Atomics Mojave make a series of landings and takeoffs from the flight deck to demonstrate use of uncrewed aircraft systems from the ship. 

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.