The F-35 Lightning II is edging closer to arriving in the hands of the UK military and, in preparation for pilots to take to the skies in the next-gen super fighter, a £2m bespoke flight simulator has been built by BAE Systems. A PC flight sim, this is not.
The world-leading simulator will be in use for the first time to train pilots of the F-35 B variant of the stealth fighter jet, which features the STOVL (Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) ability designed for jets on aircraft carriers. With the UK investing over £6bn in the new Queen Elizabeth class carriers being readied for service, the advanced simulator is perfect for pilot practice.
The £2m facility in Lancashire, UK, comes complete with an F-35 replica cockpit with realistic motion platform sat within a dome-shaped room surrounded by large wraparound screens to offer a 360-degree view for pilots – something that's essential as potential obstacles are often behind pilots as they land on aircraft carriers.
The immersive experience will be used by test pilots from the UK and US for the new F-35 who will practice thousands of ski jump short take-offs and vertical landings in a range of difficult sea and weather conditions. Landing a jet on a moving carrier isn't the easiest task and something you don't want to get wrong in a jet that costs over $100m – so the simulator will allow pilots to perfect manoeuvres. The flying control tower (FLYCO) will also be fully simulated with a Landing Signal Officer (operated by a real person) overseeing everything.
"The immersive experience is as near to the real thing as possible. The data will show us exactly what will happen when F-35 pilots fly to and from the Queen Elizabeth carriers. The trials we can run through the simulator are far more extensive than what we will do in the actual flight trials because we can run and re-run each trial until we have all the data we need. The simulator provides greater cost efficiency for the overall programme and is extremely important to the success of the first flight trials," said Peter 'Wizzer' Wilson, BAE Systems' test pilot.
The simulator takes the place of a previous model built back in the 1980s that was used by pilots training for the Harrier jump-jet – a fighter that will be phased out with the introduction of the F-35. Lockheed Martin, who is building the fleet of F-35s, also has a simulator to train pilots on all variants of the strike fighter.
The F-35 Lightning II is a fifth-generation warplane that has seen a turbulent time since it was announced back in 2001. The Joint Strike Fighter claimed to offer an affordable, do-it-all solution to replace ageing planes of the Army, Navy and Marines. It would deliver state-of-the-art stealth capabilities and the high-tech tricks such as allowing pilots to 'look through' the body of the plane. However, design issues have seen the project stall and price skyrocket. Currently, Lockheed Martin is continuing with the project and announced the F-35A already combat ready and deployed to some military units.