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The F-35B Lightning II STOVL; RAF Fairford July 10 & 11, 2016

The JSF Program, part 4; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The F-35B Lightning II is the short takeoff and vertical landing version (Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing, STOVL) of the aircraft. The F-35B will be used by the United States Marines, the British Royal Air Force and the Italian Air Force and will be used for operations from aircraft carriers and smaller amphibious ships.

The F-35B Lighting II is similar in size to the F-35A variant, but it has only a third of the fuel capacity compared to the F-35A. The F-35A is able to make 9G turns while the F-35B can make it by its construction and weight only to 7G. The first version of the F-35B was limited to 4.5g at a maximum speed of 400 knots in 2014. The next software upgrade of the F-35B includes weapons and allows 5.5g and speeds of maximum Mach 1.2. The ultimate objective of 7G and Mach 1.6 will be achieved in a very short term. The first test flight of the F-35B was performed on June 11, 2008. Another milestone was the first successful ski-jump launch which was carried out by BAE test pilot Peter Wilson on June 24, 2015. Unlike other versions of the aircraft, the F-35B has no arresting hook. Revolutionary at the F-35B design is the movable nozzle at the rear of the aircraft. This system allows that the engine exhaust can be turned downwards to generate vertical thrust. The direction of the emission is designed to cover a larger surface area towards the ground to prevent damage to asphalt during a vertical landing. The F-35B has a large fan behind the cockpit which is used for the vertical landings of the aircraft. This fan is in flight hidden behind closed doors. These large doors will open as soon as the aircraft goes into a hover. The fan is driven by the main engine and generates a vertical thrust on the front of the F-35B. In contrast to the F-35A, the F-35B does not have any internal board canon, because this space is not available due to the fan system. However, an external board canon be carried under the fuselage of the aircraft.

On January 6, 2011, it was decided to discontinue the production of the F-35B for a period of two years. The aircraft would have a drastically redesign on a few vital parts of the F-35B which were modified during this period. Critics say the F-35B was the biggest cause of delays in the total F-35 program. When modifications would not improve the design, the F-35B would eventually be canceled from the project. As of

October 3, 2011, the F-35B began its sea trials by several landings on the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp. The United States Marine Corps (USMC) is planning to buy more than 340 F-35Bs. The USMC will therefore be the largest buyer of this variant of the F-35 Lighting II. The F-35B will replace the USMC McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet and the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II. The USMC is planning to start using the F-35B from amphibious ships and from land based unpaved runways. In total, four different wings will be operating with the F-35B. The first wing is VMX-1 (Flying Lions); this unit is the test unit of the F-35B and flies from Edwards AFB, California. The training unit which will fly the F-35B is VMFAT-501 (Warlords) at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina. The first two operational units which will use the F-35B are; VMFA-121 (Green Knights) at MCAS Yuma, Arizona and VMFA-211 (Wake Island Avengers) at MCAS Yuma, Arizona. The USMC declared the first operational units in service on July 31, 2015. In total, the USMC currently has about 50 F-35Bs in use.

The British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Navy plan to use the F-35B jointly in the United Kingdom. The British Navy F-35Bs will replace the Harrier GR9 which was already retired from service. The RAF will replace the Tornado GR4 with the F-35B from 2019. The F-35B will be used in the attack role in Britain. The UK is the only level one partner of the American government and played a major role in the development of the F-35B. The F-35B for British use was developed for the Shipborne Rolling and Vertical Landing (SRVL) concept. The United Kingdom currently has two aircraft carriers under construction on which the F-35B will be stationed. These two ships are the Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales. Both ships have on the deck a ski-jump which will swing the aircraft into the air. One of the major British requirements was to increase the maximum weight during the landing of the F-35B. The returning aircraft are then also able to land with their arms and fuel still on board. In total the United Kingdom will receive 138 F-35Bs. The RAF will receive 48 aircraft which are spread over three units. All RAF units will be stationed at RAF Marham. The units which will operate the F-35B within the RAF are the no 17 Squadron, the no 617 Squadron and a still unknown unit. The units of the Royal Navy which will fly the F-35B will be stationed at RAF Marham too. The first naval unit which is going to fly the F-35B is the no 809 Naval Air Squadron. Later another squadron will follow in the Navy. There will also be a joint training unit established.

The third user of the F-35B will be the Italian Navy. Italy is the level two partner of the United States and is the only country which is going to buy multiple versions of the F-35. The Italian Air Forces will purchase a total of 30 F-35Bs. The Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare, AMI) and Italian Navy (Marina Militare, MMI) will use both 15 F-35Bs. It is currently not known which units will fly the F-35B. In total there will be one squadron in the Air Force and one squadron in the Navy which will be equipped with the F-35B. Chances are that the Navy Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati on Grottaglie Taranto will fly with the F-35B. This unit is now flying the AV-8B Harrier which will be replaced by the F-35B. The purchase of the F-35B in 2010 was almost cancelled when the British government decided to go for the F-35C instead of the F-35B. This was a result of the many setbacks in the F-35B program. Ultimately, this British switch was reversed in 2012. A possible fourth recipient of the F-35B is the Australian navy. Although the Australian Canberra class helicopter carriers were originally not designed to land aircraft on, the Navy intends to place F-35Bs on these ships in May 2014. The Australian Navy has two of these vessels and is considering the possibility to equip two squadrons with F-35Bs. When decision to purchase the F-35B will be made, the ships must be equipped with a ski-jump like on the British and Italian ships.

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