For the first time, an F-35C Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) was propelled into the air July 27 by a steam catapult, marking a significant milestone in the test program to qualify the aircraft for carrier operations.
The aircraft, dubbed CF-3, was launched at the U.S. Navy's aviation test facilities at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, N.J., Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) said in a press release. It was flown by Navy test pilot Lt. Chris Tabert, the most junior test pilot yet to fly any variant of the F-35.
Using more junior aviators to test the aircraft is "a deliberate shaping of the test force," NAVAIR said, with the aim of balancing "experienced military and contractor test pilots with newly qualified test pilots with recent fleet experience."
The F-35C - the carrier variant of the JSF program - was launched by a TC-13 Mod 2 test steam catapult, similar to the catapults used by all the Navy's aircraft carriers.
Further tests lie ahead at Lakehurst, including launching the aircraft at varying catapult power levels, testing degraded catapult configurations, and jet blast deflector testing.
A YouTube video of the F-35's launch at Lakehurst was posted by NAVAIR.