The variant of the F-35 Lightning II, the F-35C, is preparing to begin carrier qualifications today, November 3rd.
If all goes according to plan, two F-35Cs will take off from Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona, and fly to the USS Nimitz, stationed off the coast of San Diego, for two weeks of testing. The F-35 program has had quite a few very public difficulties over the past few years - with the most recent engine fire in June, and many critics decrying its excessive cost - and the Navy-specific F-35C has had a few carrier-related problems.
The tailhook, which is used to catch the arresting wire on aircraft carrier landings, had to be redesigned, after eight attempts to catch the arresting wire during land-based carrier trials were unsuccessful in 2011. After the redesign, the trials resulted in 36 successful 'traps'. Other Navy-specific challenges include engines that are too large to be transported by current underway-replenishment mechanisms, storing of weapons and classified material not usually stored on aircraft carriers, storage of more volatile lithium-ion batteries, and the stealthy skin will require new repair techniques, while extensive skin damage can only be repaired at Lockheed's land facilities.
In addition, the Navy seems to be less-than-enthusiastic about the new stealthy strike fighter, having so far only ordered 28 during the first 7 years of production - with two due in 2015. By contrast, the USMC has ordered 66 and the USAF has ordered 130 during the same time period. The Navy plans to replace its original Hornet fleet (the F/A-18A, B, C, and D, variants) with the F-35, and use it to compliment the F/A-18E and F Super Hornet. Although many in the Navy have a soft spot for the Super Hornet, any upgrades to that fleet are not likely before 2030.
We'll update this article with video of the carrier trials, when it becomes available!
Edit: Here's the video - looks like he caught the #3 wire!
And here's an F-35 cat shot!
Although the F-35 program is still controversial, it looks like the Navy sea trials have gone well!