The Lockheed Martin F-35B is taking to the skies at Marine Corps Auxiliary Landing Field (MCALF) Bogue in North Carolina. According to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing fighter is scheduled to conduct sloped surface vertical-landing tests through late February. (Video courtesy of the F-35 Lightning II Pax River ITF.)
The Marine Corp. hopes the tests, conducted by the F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF) team, will expand the expeditionary envelope for the F-35B, MCAS Cherry Point said.
“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,” said Bob Nantz, F-35 Pax River ITF Performance/Environmental Technical Specialist.
For the sloped surface vertical landings tests, Marines from 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at MCAS Cherry Point and MCALF Bogue built four expeditionary landing pads of different slopes: left, right, forward and back. The pads were constructed out of material similar to the AM-2 matting, according to the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (Navair). Marines use the material to build expeditionary runways or landing pads while on deployment.
MCAS Cherry Point said the test team will assess how well the F-35B operates on varying slopes in different combinations of environmental and takeoff/landing conditions.
During the month of testing, the Pax River ITF is set to analyze nearly 200 data test points. Navair said this includes how well the F-35B operates on varying slopes, impacts of head and tailwinds, and the effect of aft center of gravity in conjunction with ground slopes. MCAS Cherry Point said testing is done on a graduated basis, which means that the program starts by conducting less risk tests and increases from there.
According to Maj. Michael Lippert, F-35 Pax River ITF test pilot and detachment officer-in-charge, some test results will be instantaneous, as real-time lessons learned are capture. Other results will require more attention, as much of the data needs to undergo significant analysis before any actions are taken.
“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.
If conditions are ideal and the schedule goes as written, however, the testing could wrap up sooner. When the tests are complete, the aircraft and test team are to depart MCALF Bogue and head back to Pax River in Maryland.
“Bogue is a unique testing location because the expeditionary landing field and the landing pads were constructed entirely by Marines. Conducting the testing at Bogue Field provides the Marine Corps with an opportunity to continue the test and development of the F-35 in the STOVL mode, while simultaneously exercising components of the MAGTF's Air Combat Element, specifically the Marine Wing Support Squadrons resident aboard Bogue and MCAS Cherry Point,” MCAS Cherry Point told R&WI. “This is significant because it demonstrates the ability for our Marines and their equipment to precisely build expeditionary sites suitable for the conduct of F-35 operations and showcases the unique skillsets these organizations have.”