On Monday at 12:18 pm PDT off the coast of San Diego, California, the F-35C Lightning II made its first arrested landing on an aircraft carrier. Taking place on the first day of a two-week sea trial, the landing of the F-35C test aircraft CF-03 on the flight deck of the nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) with test pilot commander Tony Wilson at the controls marked a major step towards the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter entering operational service.

Part of the most expensive weapons system purchase in United States history, the F-35C is one of three variants of the fifth-generation combat aircraft being developed by prime contractor Lockheed Martin. The F-35A is conventional takeoff and landing fighter intended primarily for the US Air Force and the RAF, and the F-35B is a Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) fighter for the US Marine Corps and the Royal Navy. The F-35C is a carrier variant designated for the US Navy’s strike aircraft carriers. Aside from a marinized construction to withstand sea conditions, it is built for catapult launching and has a tail-hook for arrested landings.

Monday’s landing was the opening of Developmental Testing I (DT-I), which is the first of three sea trials for the aircraft. For this, two F-35C test aircraft have been released from the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland along with the F-35 Lightning II Pax River Integrated Test Force (ITF) to test how well the F-35C works under operational sea conditions. This not only includes takeoff and landing exercises from the Nimitz, but also tests of general maintenance operations and support equipment. During these tests, the aircraft will be fitted with additional instruments to gather data for analysis and evaluation that will be used in improving the aircraft.

According to the US Navy, the F-35C is scheduled to enter service in 2018. By 2025, the Navy sees it as part of a mixed sea air arm consisting of the F-35C, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, E-2D Hawkeyes, MH-60R/S helicopters and Carrier Onboard Delivery logistics aircraft.

"Our F-35 integrated test team has done an amazing job preparing for today. This will be one landing out of thousands more that will happen over the next few decades," says Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, F-35 Program Executive Officer. "For months, we've been working with the Nimitz crew, Naval Air Forces, and our industry partners, Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney, as well as their suppliers, to prepare and train for this event. We plan on learning a lot during this developmental test and will use that knowledge to make the naval variant of the F-35 an even more effective weapons platform."

The video below shows the first carrier landing of the F-35C.

Source: US Navy

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