Skip to content
Recruiting now.Explore navy careers

Testing milestone for F-35 Jets

13 November 2017
The A variant of the F-35 strike fighter has completed its rigorous airframe test – during which it ‘flew’ the equivalent of 24,000 hours.

The B variant, which will provide the aerial punch for HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, has so far completed 16,000 flying hours of testing, along with the C variant.

Scientists at BAE Systems’ site in Brough, East Yorkshire, have been testing the airframes in a special 350-tonne rig, putting the aircraft through the range of loads it will experience in actual flight.

The durability test rig is the only one of its kind in the UK and it has supported the testing of  AJ-1 –  which represents the conventional take off and landing variant of the jet – since it arrived in Brough in 2009. The A variant of the jet will primarily be flown by the US Air Force.

The test rig is fitted with more than 20 miles of wiring, 2,500 strain gauges and 160 loading actuator, which are designed to subject the aircraft to a range of loads that it could typically encounter when airborne.

This testing has pushed the F-35A airframe to its limits to make sure it will fly safely and effectively throughout its lifetime

Andy Prendergast

“This testing has pushed the F-35A airframe to its limits to make sure it will fly safely and effectively throughout its lifetime,” said Andy Prendergast, operations manager for structural and dynamic testing.

“We have continually checked the airframe for any signs of stresses and strains and reported findings back to the programme so structural improvements could be made, if required, long before any issues appear in the flying fleet."

HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to embark her first F-35Bs next year. When not at sea the jets will be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk. 617 Squadron will be the first operational British F-35 unit. A second squadron, 809 NAS, is due to stand up in 2023.

BAE Systems leads structural testing on the CTOL variant of the F-35 with Lockheed Martin, the programme’s prime contractor, which is also responsible for testing of the aircraft's other variants: the F-35B Short Take-Off; Vertical Landing (STOVL); and the F-35C Carrier Variant (CV). 

The F-35A durability test airframe will now leave the rig and travel to the USA where it will undergo further detailed inspections.

Pictures: BAE Systems

Related articles

Navy News Magazine

We bring you the latest news, features and award-winning photographs from the front-line. Navy News has been reporting on all that happens in the Royal Navy and its wider community since 1954.