The Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has begun testing a new carrier arresting hook for the Navy’s version of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.
Aircraft CF-3, which is the first F-35C fitted with a production tailhook, caught an arresting wire at a shore-based test rig on Dec. 19 at the Navy’s primary flight test center according to Naval Air Systems Command. The aircraft was flow by Lt. Cmdr. Tony Wilson.
Testing will eventually move to Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst in New Jersey in January 2014 for additional testing with a shore-based arresting gear. Fly-in testing is required to verify that the F-35C will be able to consistently catch an arresting wire.
After the aircraft demonstrates that it can catch a wire on land, the F-35C will have to be tested at sea. Arrested recoveries at sea should take place onboard the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) in the first part of 2014 according to Lockheed officials. However, while the current plan calls for the F-35 to perform its sea-trials onboard the Nimitz, it could be another ship depending on the availability of carriers at the time.
Demonstrating that the F-35C can recover onboard a carrier is critical for a naval aircraft. The tailhook has been a vexing problem on the F-35C variant when it was discovered in 2012 that the hook could not reliably engage an arresting wire.
Lockheed and the Joint Strike Fighter program office ultimately traced the problem back to the shape of the hook and a faulty wire dynamics model supplied by the Naval Air Systems Command. The solution was to reshape the hook point and adjust the system’s hold-down damper, which helps prevent the hook from bouncing around upon touchdown.
The Department of the Navy is set to acquire a total of 340 F-35Cs–260 of which would serve with the Navy while a further 80 would be allocated to the US Marine Corps. The Navy expects the F-35C to become operational in late 2018 or early 2019 with the full Block 3F capability.