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F-35B pilots ramp up training for HMS Queen Elizabeth debut

Four test pilots are getting in last-minute training ready to take their specially-modified stealth fighters aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth next month. They’ll conduct around 500 landings and take-offs on the 900ft deck of the future flagship – the first time the Portsmouth-based warship has hosted fast jets. She’s about to strike out across the Atlantic – another first – after final preparations in the South Coast exercise areas.

F 35B pilots ramp up training for HMS Queen Elizabeth debut Ramping up training ahead of debuting on Britain’s new carrier, ex-Fleet Air Arm pilot Peter ‘Wizzer’ Wilson takes off from a replica ski jump in an F-35B. Royal Navy picture.

Once in the US, 200 engineers and experts from the F-35 Integrated Test Force – based at Pax River air station 50 miles outside Washington DC – will embark with a myriad of sensors and data recorders to see how the state-of-the-art aircraft perform in various weather conditions/sea states and carrying various payloads.

The ski ramp was introduced on the previous generation of carriers to give Harriers extra lift, allowing them to take off at a slower speed/heavier weight than normal – and has been retained on the new flagships for the same reason.

Two specially-modified F-35Bs and four pilots – Mr Wilson from BAE, the RN’s Cdr Nathan Gray, Sqn Ldr Andy Edgell and a US Marine Corps aviator – will conduct the trials aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth in two phases of trials this autumn, trials broken up by a high-profile visit to New York.

Weather and serviceability permitting, the first deck landing on the RN's 65,000-tonne future flagship is earmarked for the last week in September.

The F-35B is now operational with the US Marine Corps, but US ships do not feature the ski jump, which rises about 20ft above the regular deck.