F-35 Lightning jets have conducted their first night flying trials off the United Kingdom’s largest warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The aircraft carrier, which first landed F-35 Lightning jets on board last week, is currently conducting flight testing off the east coast of the United States.
Pictures show how the night time trials, which up until now have only been tested in simulators or on the ground, were carried out using state-of-the-art night-vision technology, with the pilots and aircraft handlers successfully guiding the supersonic fighter jets onto the flight deck.
Some trials were also carried out without night vision technology to ensure the jets’ capability in any eventuality.
“The concept of night flying isn’t difficult for us - what we are looking at is what the new lights on board HMS Queen Elizabeth look like at night from the perspective of the F-35s.
“We’ve already done that with the rotary wing aircraft earlier this year, but now it’s crucial that we understand how suitable they are for the F-35s to operate at night from the carrier. First indications are that they are in good order for both the aided and unaided perspectives.”
Commander James Blackmore 'Wings'
Commander Air on HMS Queen Elizabeth
Andrew Maack, the chief test engineer for the Integrated Test Force, the organisation responsible for analysing the flight trials, said:
“In daytime there are cues that tell the pilot’s brain what the relative motion is between the airplane and the ship.
“At night, especially very dark night, all those cues go away and you become dependent on exactly what the lights are and what the sight of those lights looks like. It’s something you can’t translate in your mind ahead of time – you don’t know it until you see it.”
Pilots initially flew in using only ambient light and the lights on the carrier’s deck before later conducting landings using the night-vision capability in their helmets.
HMS Queen Elizabeth has been kitted out with specially-designed LED lighting on her flight deck to aid night time landings.
Royal Navy Commander Nathan Gray and RAF Squadron Leader Andy Edgell were the first pilots to make history by landing their aircraft on the flight deck of the carrier on September 25th 2018.
HMS Queen Elizabeth left her home port of Portsmouth in August, crossing the Atlantic to conduct the flying trials, as well as training with the US Navy.