PARIS --- The first ski jump test carried out by an F-35B fighter took place on June 19, four months after it was quietly delayed without any announcement or explanation.
The US Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) posted a video on YouTube dated June 23 and showing what is labeled as the “F-35B First Ski Jump Test” which it dates on June 19.
As of noon today, Central European Time, Navair had not posted the video on its website, or issued any information about the event.
This test was originally scheduled for late February, Reuters reported Feb. 24, and so was finally carried out four months late. In fact, the first test was carried out a month later than the previously-scheduled end of the ski jump trials.
“Two UK pilots will test the ability of the new warplane to take off from upward-sloping ski-jump ramps used on aircraft carriers like those operated by Britain and Italy. The ramps launch the jets forward and upward, reducing the thrust needed,” Reuters reported.
It cited Sylvia Pierson, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon's F-35 program office, as saying that “two British pilots, one from BAE Systems Plc and the other from the British Royal Navy, would use the first UK F-35B jet to complete the testing through late May.”
No information has been made public about a delay in the ski jump trials. However, a four-month delay that was unexpected days before the trials were due to begin can only point to the last-minute discovery of a problem serious enough to warrant a four-month postponement.
Given the F-35’s long history of problems and technical glitches, it is impossible to single out any possible causes, but we will be following up on this initial report.
Joint Program Office responds: No test due in February
We asked the F-35 Joint Program Office why the ski-jump tests scheduled for February (see Reuters story above) only began four months later, on June 19.
Its answer: the Reuters story, headlined “Lockheed F-35 heads for the ski jump in next key round of tests,” was wrong, and the tests were never scheduled for February. Here is its response in full:
“I was surprised when I first saw that Reuters headline back in February,” JPO spokesman Joe Della Vedova said in a June 24 e–mail, “especially because at the time we were experiencing record-breaking cold temperatures, icing and snow had swept across all of Southern Maryland.
“There were no technical problems. Testing schedules and events have been busy for both test jets selected to support the ski ramp test. For example, since February BF-04 conducted Mode 4 STOVL Flying Qualities testing, Gen III helmet operations, software installations, regression testing and then first ski jump on June 19.
“And BF-1 (the other aircraft dedicated for ski ramp testing) had to conduct Mode 4 STOVL external stores/low altitude tanking; Ferry to Edwards AFB for crosswind testing; Ferry back to Pax River; support Mode 4 STOVL Pilot Qualifications and support Mode 4 STOVL Flying Qualities testing.
“When the weather for the ski ramp got better and schedules between all the other dedicated tests BF-1 and BF-4 were out supporting better aligned themselves – we did the test. It's still well within program timelines to deliver that capability to the UK and Italy.”
Reuters was not alone in making a mistake, however. It quoted “Sylvia Pierson, spokeswoman for the Pentagon's F-35 program office,” as saying that “two British pilots, one from BAE Systems Plc and the other from the British Royal Navy, [will] use the first UK F-35B jet to complete the testing through late May.”
Apparently, at the time Ms Pierson was also under the impression that the tests were due to begin in late February and run until late May.
It’s a good thing that they were finally able to align their schedules, or else the tests might well have taken place without anyone noticing.
-- June 25, 2015 a.m.: Added JPO response.
-- June 23, 2015 a.m.: Added YouTube video