At Last F-35Cs Make First Carrier Landings on USS Nimitz

The first pair of Lockheed Martin F-35Cs successfully completed arrested landings on the carrier USS Nimitz off the California coast on Nov. 3, marking the start of the at-sea developmental test phase for the Joint Strike Fighter and the shipborne debut of the Navy's first piloted stealth aircraft.
The first F-35C to land, CF-03 from Navy Air Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-23, touched down after flying out to the carrier from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. Flown by Navy test pilot Cmdr. Tony 'Brick' Wilson, the aircraft first made a low approach and overshoot, followed by a touch-and-go with the tailhook retracted. Finally, with an F/A-18F acting as chase, Wilson brought the F-35C in for the first arrested landing. A second aircraft, CF-05, arrived less than an hour later and landed successfully at  flown by Lt. Cmdr. Ted 'Dutch' Dyckman.

F-35C on  USS Nimitz
F-35C on  USS Nimitz

Both aircraft made highly stable approaches, and trapped firmly on the third of the Nimitz's four arrestor wires. The touchdown spot between the second and third wires is considered the optimum for carrier landings. The landing was also key test for the F-35C's arresting hook system, which had to be redesigned with additional stiffness, a modified hold-down damper and revised shaping after poor performance in tests three years ago at Naval Air Warfare Center Lakehurst, N.J. Having delayed the start of carrier trials, the performance of the redesigned hook was a significant watch item. "It's a little bit different of a design, and obviously it works," says U.S. Pacific Fleet, Naval Air Forces Commander, Vice Admiral David Buss.

Although calm seas and light winds from the northwest contributed to the benign conditions and resulting trouble-free landings, both pilots partly attributed the precision touchdowns and stable approaches to the F-35C's integrated direct lift control feature. Embedded in the flight control software for all three JSF variants, test pilot Wilson says direct lift is particularly useful for the F-35C because it provides greatly improved glide slope control.
Unlike conventional carrier aircraft in which the pilot approaches the carrier with flaps set at a fixed position and adjusts power and pitch attitude to stay on the glideslope, the F-35 system controls power through an 'auto-thrust' function and alters the position of the trailing edge flap in response to the pilot's inputs. "So the stick becomes my glideslope controller," notes Dyckman. "If I pull back the flap adds lift, if I push forward it commands a steeper approach," he says. As nominal flap position for a carrier approach is 15 degrees, or half-flap, this provides ample margin for additional flap movement to add or reduce lift. Wilson says the effect is to "change the 'heave' of the aircraft, rather than the pitch."

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