For the first time, a Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II has landed on the Royal Navy’s second and latest aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales (R09), as the vessel conducts sea trials off England’s south coast.
The F-35B Lightning II – serial ZM149 ‘015’ (c/n BK-15) – landed aboard the HMS Prince of Wales on June 8, causing a raft of speculation across social media as to whether it was a real example or a mock-up for deck handling training purposes. However, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) confirmed that the fighter – which is operated by the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) No 207 Squadron at RAF Marham, Norfolk – had indeed landed on the 65,000-tonne vessel.
The arrival of this F-35B marks the first time a fixed-wing aircraft has embarked aboard the Prince of Wales, marking a significant milestone in the vessel’s journey to achieving full operational capability (FOC). During its stay aboard the aircraft carrier, the Lightning II will support the ship’s ongoing sea acceptance trials off the south coast of England. These trials will test the vessel’s ability to launch and receive aircraft, while maintaining a stance of continuous air operations.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The vital partnership between HMS Prince of Wales and our F-35B aircraft signifies a momentous milestone in the capability of the fifth-generation carrier, marking another step towards it becoming fully operational. The first jet landing is a huge achievement for all involved and showcases the collaboration across the UK Armed Forces and our impressive carrier strike capabilities.”
This milestone comes as the vessel’s sister ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), journey’s through the Mediterranean Sea as it continues on its first operational deployment under the Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) mission. The flagship aircraft carrier has deployed with an air wing, which comprises 18 F-35Bs – eight from the RAF’s No 617 Squadron ‘The Dambusters’ and ten from the US Marine Corps’ Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) ‘Wake Island Avengers’.
At the end of April, HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed with HMS Prince of Wales at sea for the first time, with the former returned to Her Majesty’s Naval Base (HMNB) Portsmouth after taking part in Exercise Strike Warrior and the latter having left the port to conduct operational training. With a flight deck large enough to accommodate three football pitches, HMS Prince of Wales will be able to receive up to 36 F-35Bs and sail with a crew of approximately 1,600 personnel, once operational.
Capt Darren Houston, commanding officer of the HMS Prince of Wales, noted that the F-35B’s first landing aboard the UK’s second and latest aircraft carrier was a “prodigious achievement”, which highlighted the rebirth of the Royal Navy’s carrier strike capability. “I am particularly proud of the contribution made by my ship’s company in developing this world-leading, sovereign capability and we look forward in earnest to rapidly growing our experience operating the F-35B through further trials and training later this year,” he added.
As per the UK’s Defence Command Paper – which was released in March and details the future of the armed forces through 2030 – the government has committed to a purchase of 48 F-35Bs for use aboard the nation’s two new aircraft carriers. This represents a significant decrease in what was a planned acquisition of 138 examples, which would be operated by both the RAF and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. Despite this, the UK government has highlighted that the procurement of 48 aircraft would be an initial purchase and that more F-35Bs would be ordered in the future.
Sqn Ldr Will, an F-35B Lightning II pilot with No 207 Squadron and the first to land the type aboard HMS Prince of Wales, added: “It was a real honour to be the first pilot to land the F-35B onboard HMS Prince of Wales. With all the training that we have previously undertaken with HMS Queen Elizabeth, we are now looking forward to using that experience and knowledge working with HMS Prince of Wales as she moves towards her [FOC].”
To keep up-to-date with the progress of HMS Queen Elizabeth and her task force as it continues to transit to the Indo-Pacific region as part of its CSG21 mission, follow the link below.