USS Wasp braces for F-35 JSF

USS Wasp is preparing to be the first ship to test the F-35B at sea. A group of Aviation Boatswain’s Mates from the ship’s Air Department will soon work in the jet at NAS Patuxent River to familiarized themselves with the aircraft.

Recently, four members of Wasp’s Air Department traveled to one of the Navy’s premier test facilities at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., to help give them a good idea of what WASP can expect when testing begins. The group consisted of Cmdr. Stephen McKone, Wasp’s Air Boss; Lt. Michael Curcio, Wasp’s Aircraft Handling Officer and F-35B Ship Integration Project Officer; Ens. Maguel Brooks, Wasp’s Air Bos’n; and Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handler) Richard McCray.

The F-35B fighter will replace the Department of Navy’s current Vertical and /or Short Take Off/Landing (VSTOL) aircraft, the AV-8B Harrier.

“The F-35B is a really unique aircraft,” said Lt. Curcio. “This aircraft alone has the potential to completely revitalize the utility of large-deck amphibious platforms by adding significant strike capability to their resumes.”

During Wasp’s four-month maintenance availability conducted earlier this year, major modifications were completed to various elements of the ship including the flight deck and combat systems equipment. Also, the aft NATO Sea sparrow missile launcher mount was removed and replaced with a “dummy” launcher.

“The ship has had a few physical changes made to it,” said Curcio. “Some of these are necessary to accommodate the physical differences between the Harrier and the F-35B fighter, while others will help the engineers to collect data on both the ship’s effect on the aircraft and the aircraft’s effect on the ship.”

“For example, the flight deck tramline was shifted slightly to port to accommodate the F-35B’s larger wingspan, while the operational aft NATO Sea Sparrow launcher was replaced with an a test launcher laced with sensors to measure heat, vibrations, overpressure, and sound levels.”

According to Curcio, only five F-35B test aircraft have been delivered to flight test operations at Pax River from the factory. These prototypes are the product of millions of man hours of work and represent the full ingenuity and industrial strength of the United States.

As Wasp and her crew prepare to help test one of the world’s most technologically advanced jet fighters, Curico realizes that this will be a tremendous team effort.

“With any new piece of equipment being tested, there will some road blocks,” said Curico. “Since the crew will be working together on this, Wasp will be writing the book on how to operate the Joint Strike Fighter at sea.”



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