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F-35C goes to sea for joint testing

(US Navy)

The Lockheed Martin F-35C carrier variant has been integrated with an aircraft carrier air wing for the first time aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Operating off the US east coast, the F-35C has been integrated with F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, E-2D Hawkeyes and C-2 Greyhounds on deck for the first time. Previous at-sea test evolutions have been solely focused on the F-35C.

“Until you get an airplane out and mixed with other airplanes, you don’t necessarily grasp those differences,” the US Navy’s director of Joint Strike Fighter fleet integration, Rear Adm Dale Horan told DefenseNews. “For the first two days or so, everybody was, ‘wow, it’s F-35s!’ And now it’s, ‘hey, those are airplanes’.”

An F-35C, an EA-18G Growler and an F/A-18E Super Hornet launch from the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. (US Navy)

The joint integration effort is one of the last test evolutions for the F-35C before it conducts an initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) period later this year ahead of a planned initial operational capability (IOC) in early 2019.

The F-35C will be the final variant to achieve IOC, following the USMC’s F-35B STOVL variant and the USAF’s F-35A.

Two F-35Cs assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125 and two F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 86 aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. (US Navy)