Video: RAF pilot flies F-35C

An RAF pilot has flown the F-35C Lightning II for the first time.

February 23: Royal Air Force pilot Squadron Leader Jim Schofield became the UK’s first military test pilot to fly the F-35C, the carrier variant of the Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, on February 21 from NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, USA.

“The F-35 has the best handling of any jet I’ve flown, which means it’s going to be easier to land on a ship than current aircraft, and pilots can devote all of their attention to the mission,” Schofield said. “Combined with the world’s best sensors which allow the pilot to find and target anything that’s out there, and a stealthy signature, which means the enemy can’t do the same to you, this is exactly the aircraft the UK needs to provide the best protection for our soldiers, sailors and airmen for the next 35 years.”

Schofield’s flight is the latest in a series of milestones for the UK’s Joint Combat Aircraft program, which included the first F-35C launch on the test electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) on November 18, 2011, and the rollout of the first UK F-35 from the production line four days later. EMALS is the current launching system of record for the future HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, currently under construction.

“This is another major step forward for the UK’s Joint Combat Aircraft programme,” said Group Captain Harv Smyth, the UK’s JSF national deputy. “Squadron Leader Schofield is now test-flying both the [short takeoff and vertical landing] and carrier variants of the F-35, which affords the UK unprecedented early learning regarding this fifth-generation air system. This is a very exciting period for JCA, as not only are we now testing both the B and the C variants, but we look forward to taking delivery of our first production F-35 aircraft later this year.”