U.S. Marine Corps test pilot for the F-35 Lightning II, Marine Maj. Paul Gucwa, successfully executed the very first night shipborne rolling vertical landing (SRVL) aboard the HMS Prince of Wales (R09), the United Kingdom’s newest aircraft carrier.
In the official press release, it was mentioned that this event took place in the waters of the Atlantic off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard shortly after 9 p.m. on October 29, 2023.
Maj. Gucwa achieved this feat in an F-35B short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) variant test jet as part of the carrier qualifications (CQs) process. The specific rolling landing technique being put to the test is a crucial component of the ongoing developmental test phase 3 (DT-3).
Carrier qualifications, or CQs, are standard procedures that test pilots undertake in various conditions, including variables such as wind over the deck, deck motion, landing speed, and touchdown location. The “heart of the envelope” represents the known safest conditions for these tests. While Maj. Gucwa operated within this safety envelope, the unique challenge of conducting the operation at night pushed the boundaries of this envelope, representing an envelope expansion.
Maj. Gucwa, who also serves as the DT-3 test project officer, emphasized the importance of this milestone, saying, “Expanding on the initial work the Pax River F-35 Integrated Test Force (Pax ITF) team executed during DT-1 and DT-2 is the next step in providing these types of increased capabilities to the warfighter, which is what flight test is all about.”
The SRVL technique is being examined as an alternative method for landing the STOVL jet. If proven viable, it could allow pilots to return to the carrier with additional weight, such as more fuel or weaponry, which would typically exceed the permissible limits for a vertical landing (VL).
These pivotal flight trials are taking place on the largest warship in the British fleet and are part of the HMS Prince of Wales’ deployment to the Western Atlantic for WESTLANT 23. The primary objective of these trials is to collect data that could ultimately enhance the operational capabilities of this 65,000-tonne carrier, improve Queen Elizabeth-class (QEC) carrier operations, and further solidify the F-35 Lightning II as the preferred 5th generation joint strike fighter for the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, international partners, and foreign military sales customers.
The United Kingdom plays a significant role as a key ally in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, holding the exclusive status of being the only Level 1 international partner. The F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office (JPO) leads the life-cycle management of the F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C variants, ensuring continued advancements and capabilities for this state-of-the-art aircraft.