Last week, a pair of fully loaded F-35B Lightning II jets conducted an aerial sortie from the flight deck of the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales. The jets flew in beast mode, the term aviators use to describe the fifth-generation stealth fighter when it carries a weapon on every pylon as well as in its internal bomb bay.
The F-35s each carried an impressive 22,000 pounds of ordnance. The Royal Navy noted this was equivalent to the heaviest bomb carried by a World War II-era Avro Lancaster heavy bomber — the Grand Slam or “Earthquake” bomb. It also nearly triples the bomb load of the UK’s last carrier-based strike aircraft, the Harrier GR9.
In the exercise, the specially modified F-35B from the U.S. Navy’s Integrated Test Force loaded a combination of inert 500-lb and 1,000-lb Paveway IV laser-guided bombs in the weapons bay.
“It was impressive, launching the jet, all bombed up from the back of the flight deck,” explained Captain of the Flight Deck Warrant Officer 1 John Etherington, who has experience in deck operations on the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers. “It’s exciting to see us pushing the boundaries of UK naval aviation.”
USMC Pilots Training from the Royal Navy’s Newest Carrier
The F-35s flew under the controls of U.S. Marine Corps pilots Maj. Paul Gucwa and Lt. Col. Mike Lippert. It was Lippert’s fourth time embarking on a Royal Navy flattop, having previously helped the HMS Queen Elizabeth develop its Lightning II capabilities.
“It’s a pleasure to see the continued progress in operating capability – there has been undeniable growth and progress,” Lippert said.
“Major Gucwa and I took great pleasure in continuing to expand the warfighting capacity of Britain’s biggest warship,” he added. “We were a small part of an immense, cross-functional, integrated team which spanned every corner of the ship, the F-35 ITF mission control rooms, and our worldwide F-35 Lightning II partnership – all focused on increasing the interoperability and lethality of our front-line fighter.”
An American Deployed for the Royal Navy Carrier
The HMS Prince of Wales is deployed off the East Coast of the United States to further develop the Royal Navy’s use of carrier strike groups. The vessel will continue to conduct tests with the F-35, including testing a rolling, rather than standard, vertical landing.
The Prince of Wales will make multiple port calls to Naval Station Norfolk this fall, where the carrier will be hosted by Carrier Strike Group-10 and the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77).
HMS Prince of Wales was sidelined last year when she broke down just one day after departing from Portsmouth to begin a four-month deployment to the United States. The warship spent several months undergoing repairs.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.