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UK's first Stealth fighter in successful catapult test

Royal Navy version of the F-35 shot into sky

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Vid The tailhook version of the F-35 Lightning II stealth combat aircraft – which, following the recent UK defence review, is now planned to fly from new Royal Navy carriers in years to come – has successfully completed its first catapult launch test.

The test launch took place on the landbased steam catapult at US Naval Air Station Lakehurst (also the location of a prototype electromagnetic one of the type the Royal Navy will be compelled to use).

The F-35C is intended to operate from the catapult-equipped fleet carriers of the US Navy and will equip the Royal Navy and the RAF too. The jumpjet F-35B (formerly the chosen British model) will now be delivered only to the US Marines to begin with. The F-35A version, intended for ordinary landbased runway operations, will serve with the US Air Force and many allied nations.

All F-35s feature Stealth technology, and for most non-US purchasers including the UK it will be the first proper stealth aircraft to enter service. The planes are designed specifically with strike missions in mind – the most common employment for combat jets today – but are also meant to offer useful air-to-air capability.

Critics of the F-35 – who are many – say that in fact its stealth is no good, that it will be dreadful at air-to-air combat and that its cost and time overruns are going to be worse than normal for the aerospace biz.

On the other hand it may be worth noting that if the F-35 programme survives at all, the plane will surely be sold in large numbers and that will eventually drive costs down. In air-to-air combat, stealth etc it will surely be good enough to send against anything that realistic enemies can actually put up. One can't help feeling that much of the hatred for the F-35 in the aerospace world comes from the fact that it seems set to put most of its rivals out of business in coming decades.

That said, the Royal Navy will need tailhook jets from 2020 when the F-35C will still in all probability be rather pricey. Current plans have the single UK carrier of the future – with room for 40+ aircraft – putting to sea with no more than 12 fighters aboard. ®

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