BK-1, the United Kingdom’s first Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II production aircraft, flew its inaugural flight Friday. Lockheed Martin test pilot Bill Gigliotti took the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) jet through a series of functional flight checks during a sortie that lasted 45 minutes. The jet will complete a series of company and government checkout flights prior to its acceptance by the U.K. Ministry of Defence. This BK-1 aircraft makes up one of the three F-35 fighters the MoD has already committed to buying; two F-35Bs and one F-35C.
The U.K. MOD will use this 5th Generation fighter for training and operational tests at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., beginning later this year. The British MOD is still undecided about the type of aircraft to be procured for the new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier.
In the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), Prime Minister David Cameron announced the Ministry of Defence would convert the carriers and buy the longer-range F-35C variant of the strike fighter. Originally the vessel was designed to operate the STOVL F-35B, but due to the delays and rising cost of this specific type, MOD was considering to modified the new carrier to operate the Carrier-Based F-35C version developed for the U.S. Navy.
According to the Financial Times, the UK will not reconfigure its aircraft carriers, senior government officials have told their French counterparts. The decision also means the new British carriers will not be able to support French fighters, in times of need. Allowing France and the UK to share the expensive task of maintaining uninterrupted carrier capability at sea was an important reason for the switch, the SDSR noted at the time. Cameron is expected to announce his decision over the next few weeks.