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Navy’s new stealth fighters debut at Culdrose
14 March 2017

The Navy’s first ‘stealth fighter squadron’ is in operation on UK soil.

Four life-size models of the F-35 Lightning II – built from fibre glass – are in use on the replica flight deck at RNAS Culdrose so aircraft handlers from HMS Queen Elizabeth can get used to the size and weight when they start working with the real thing next year.

Pictures: PO(Phot) Paul A’Barrow, RNAS Culdrose

THIS is the Navy’s first ‘stealth fighter squadron’. In use. On UK soil.

Aircraft handlers from HMS Queen Elizabeth can shunt, move and marshal full-size representative models of the F-35 Lightning II in preparation for doing the same with the real thing next year.

Four Ground Training Aids – we can’t call them F-35s because they’re not (although they are aesthetically similar to the Lockheed Martin jets) – have been delivered to the School of Flight Deck Operations at Culdrose to give flight deck teams an idea of the size and weight of these new jets.

Handlers can also practise extracting injured pilots out of the cockpit thanks to the four models, built by Cornish firm Gateguards (UK).

The replicas are fitted with internal water tanks which allow handlers to cope with weights between 14 and 25 tonnes, simulating the various payloads the new fighter can carry.

“They are really life-like, impressive and above all they give a sense of realism to the training here,” said CPO(AH) Paul Ranson.

“It’s good to get people getting used to moving them around the deck, alongside Harriers running with all the noise and the smell. And for the fire-fighters, there’s the challenge of lifting a 16-stone dummy from the cockpit.”

34-year-old LA(AH) Richard Fisher from Plymouth was one of the first handlers from HMS Queen Elizabeth to get up close to the models.

“In the past I’ve sat through briefings and wondered if it’s ever going to happen. And here it is,” he said.

“Putting the new jet next to the Harrier gives you an idea of the size and scale of it. It’s bigger than expected.

“You start to realise just how big the whole carrier project is. The trials with the real F-35 are going to be amazing, bringing the Navy into the future and making us a real force to be reckoned with.”