Top Guns jet in to fly £2m toy

F-35 simulator landing
F-35 simulator landing
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Fighter pilots will be jetting into Lancashire to practice landing on an aircraft carrier that isn’t even launched yet.

A new £2m “toy” designed by BAE Systems is now ready to give British and American Top Guns essential training before the first of two new Queen Elizabeth class carriers is floated out next year.

The F-35 Lightning simulator has been unveiled at BAE’s Warton plant and will test the fighter pilots’ skills to the limits as they practise landing on the deck of the new aircraft carrier in a range of difficult sea and weather conditions.

The bespoke simulator offers a 360-degree immersive experience for pilots to fly to and from the UK carrier. It comprises a cockpit moved by an electronic motion platform and a full representation of the ship’s flying control tower.

Over the coming months the simulator will allow test pilots to practice thousands of ski jump short take-offs and vertical landings, allowing the aircraft to leave and return to the carrier with increased weapon and fuel loads.

Peter ‘Wizzer’ Wilson, BAE Systems’ test pilot for the short take-off and vertical landing variant on the F-35 programme, said the simulator trials will provide engineers with the data to begin flight trials on HMS Queen Elizabeth, in 2018. He said it was “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.”