With New Hook, First F-35 Carrier Trap Set For October

(NAVY TIMES 17 FEB 14) … Mark Faram

Navy officials say the Navy’s F-35C variant of the Lightning II joint strike fighter could “call the ball” sometime in October for the plane’s first shipboard landing.

The October trap target is good news for the embattled aircraft’s attempt to get its sea legs and could pave the way for an operational capability by 2019, the service’s current goal.

The bad news is, the first traps are a year later than originally hoped.

The latest hurdle has been a redesign of the aircraft’s tailhook, the bar that extends down from the aircraft during a carrier landing to catch one of the three tensioned wires on the flight deck, stopping it safely.

“The F-35 team accomplished 36 successful roll-in arrestment tests at Lakehurst with the redesigned F-35C arresting hook system on CF-3” from Jan. 9 to 16, said Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the F-35 Joint Program Office in a Jan. 28 press release. “All flight test objectives were met.”

CF-3 is one of five test versions of the Navy aircraft and is based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., where the Navy’s test squadrons are based. The shore-based testing occurred in January at Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst, N.J., after similar December tests were successful at Paxtuxent River.

They tested modifications to the shape of the hook assembly and how it attaches to the aircraft’s frame.

The F-35C presented unique problems in fitting it with a tailhook. That’s because the airframe is a stealth aircraft and the assembly needed to be housed inside the aircraft’s skin, not externally mounted, as is traditionally done with carrier aircraft.

To date, only aircraft CF-3 has the new tailhook.

“Once the modified arresting hook system test and engineering analysis is complete, a retrofit plan will be finalized,” said Lt. Rob Myers, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon.

The first carrier arrested landing will happen off the West Coast on board the aircraft carrier Nimitz, Meyers confirmed. The exact date hasn’t been set. Originally, at-sea testing was to occur in summer 2013 and slipped to an estimated summer 2014 timeframe as of last fall.

Those tests will be conducted by test pilots from Pax River.

Strike Fighter Squadron101, the Navy’s JSF fleet replacement squadron currently based at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., could begin carrier qualifications as early as 2015, if all goes well.

The Navy has received eight F-35Cs to date; five are test versions at Patuxent River, the other three are the service’s first production aircraft in use at VFA 101.

The Navy plans to buy 260 F-35Cs.

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