The Marine Corps’ F-35B is one step closer to initial operational test and evaluation as the Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF) team wrapped up testing of the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) envelope with sloped surface vertical landing tests in January and February.
“The Marine Corps is an expeditionary force capable of deploying on short notice to crises around the world—even to the most austere environments—and the F-35 has an exceptional expeditionary capability,” said Maj. Michael Lippert, F-35 Patuxent River ITF test pilot and detachment officer-in-charge.
“Conducting the testing at [Marine Corps Auxiliary Landing Field Bogue, North Carolina] provides the Marine Corps with a unique opportunity to continue the test and development of the F-35 in the STOVL mode, while simultaneously exercising components of the [Marine Air-Ground Task Force’s (MAGTF’s)] Air Combat Element, specifically, the Marine Wing Support Squadrons at Bogue and [Marine Corps Air Station] Cherry Point.”
The capability inherent in a STOVL jet allows the Marine Corps to operate in harsh conditions and from remote locations where few airfields are available for conventional aircraft, such as abandoned or primitive runways or long stretches of roadways. The aircraft can also operate from sites where Marines construct their own expeditionary runway or landing pads with AM-2 matting, similar to that used during the sloped surface testing.
Through a series of vertical landing maneuvers in simulated expeditionary conditions, the team hopes to ease current sloped surface vertical landing requirements for the F-35B.
“We hope to be able to relax the landing pad certification limits in terms of maximum slope/gradients in the context of expeditionary pads—existing and future,” explained Bob Nantz, F-35 Pax River ITF performance/environmental technical specialist.
With Marines from the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) capturing real-time lessons learned, some of the test results will be instantaneous. However, much of the data will require significant analysis before any updates can be made to the fleet, Lippert said.
The Pax River ITF will analyze nearly 200 data test points to assess how well the F-35B operates on varying slopes, the impacts of head and tailwinds, and the effect of aft center of gravity in conjunction with ground slopes.
“These updates will eventually make it to our fleet aircraft, while the capabilities of the F-35 will continue to transform the way we fight and win,” Lippert said.
The Marine Corps declared initial operational capability for the F-35B in July 2015. Since then the service has continued to mature the platform, through assessments such as the sloped surface testing, to further refine the operational concepts that allow the service to fully leverage the air system’s capability.
The F-35B can conduct close air support, offensive and defensive counter air, air interdiction, assault support escort and armed reconnaissance as part of a MAGTF or in support of the Joint Force.
“Not only will this test expand the expeditionary envelope for the B-variant, [but also] working with the Marine Wing Support Squadrons at Bogue and MCAS Cherry Point showcases their unique skillsets and demonstrates the ability for our Marines and their equipment to precisely build expeditionary sites suitable for F-35 operations,” Lippert said.
Marines from the 2nd MAW staged the Bogue testing site for the Pax River ITF team by constructing sloped landing pads with AM-2 matting. Second MAW squadrons provide aviation ground support, enabling Marine Aircraft Groups to conduct expeditionary operations.
“Every opportunity that we get as a Marine Wing Support Squadron to provide aviation ground support is a highly valued opportunity,” said Gunnery Sgt. Julio Silva, Marine Wing Support Squadron (MSWW) 274 Expeditionary Airfield Services chief. “The information gained will not only help the Joint Strike Fighter program, but will also ensure that the expeditionary airfield capability is enhanced as we welcome the Marine Corps’ newest generation of aircraft into fold.”
Connie Hempel is the public affairs officer for F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force.