In a scene that will no doubt tug on the nostalgic heart strings of many who remember Royal Navy Harriers leaping in to the air off the end of a carrier’s deck the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II V/STOL fighter has conducted its first such take off. The ramp was built in the UK by Stockport-based WFEL and was shipped over to the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River in the US state of Maryland for the tests to be carried out using F-35B BF-04.
The ski ramp is an essential part of the F-35B testing program for the British. Without catapults on the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers currently under construction the best means with which to launch F-35Bs with a full fuel and weapons load is the ski ramp as vertical take offs consume large amounts of fuel and limit weapon loads. The sk ramp was an overwhelming success onboard the Royal Navy’s Invincible-class V/STOL “Harrier carriers”. One of the unexpected benefits of having a ski ramp for take off was increased safety during take off in rough seas as the Harrier was effectively thrown upwards away from the ocean. It was for this reason that the Harrier was able to achieve such a high operational sortie rate during the 1982 Falklands War where the weather was as much an enemy as the Argentinians. Legendary Sea Harrier pilot Commander Ward, who previously flew conventional Phantoms from HMS Ark Royal, famously said that only the Harrier could have taken off during the war thanks to its V/STOL and ski ramp in weather that would have kept the Phantom latched to the deck.