Personnel aboard the USNS Richard E. Byrd assist with helicopter operations during the first at-sea transfer of an F135 engine power module load simulator. Photo by Sarah Burfeld/Military Sealift Command Pacific
March 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy successfully demonstrated its ability to bring an F-35 fighter plane engine onto an aircraft carrier deck, using helicopters, it said on Monday.
Two helicopters transported a load simulator, matching the weight of an F-135 engine power module, from the cargo and ammunition ship USNS Richard E. Byrd to the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.
The Mar. 6 test in the Pacific Ocean, off the San Diego coast, demonstrated proof-of-concept that the Navy's deployed aircraft carriers can receive critical parts to successfully maintain the fighter plane at sea.
The maneuver, known as a vertical replenishment, employed slings descending from a EurocopterAS332 Super Puma and a CH-53E Super Stallion to vertically transport the 9,350-pound weight of the simulated engine.
The USNS Richard Byrd delivered the power module to a transfer area, and then to the flight deck, where the helicopters picked up the module, transferring it to the aircraft carrier and then returning it to the Byrd.
The operation was the first test of delivery of an F135 engine at sea, and demonstrated that operations, like the complete removal and replacement of an F-35 engine, can be conducted without a return to port.
"This exercise confirms the Navy's ability to maintain maritime operations in a new generation of jet fighter aircraft," Capt. P. Scott Miller, USS Carl Vinson's commanding officer, said in a press release.
"What we've accomplished here ensures that our fleet will be capable of utilizing the latest in cutting-edge, warfighting technology in future joint strike fighter deployments," Miller said.
A similar exercise involving the aircraft carrier, in which a shore-based power module was delivered at sea, was conducted on Feb. 26, and included loading, transporting and unloading the power module using a CMV-22B helicopter.
The power module is an engine component used by all three F-35 Lightning II variants, and the successful exercise is an achievement in the history of the troubled plane.
Regarded as the most lethal and capable fighter plane in the world, it has cost nearly $1.8 trillion in development costs over 20 years.
Only about 500 have been produced, although the Pentagon envisioned purchasing thousands to replace aging fighter planes like the F-16.
The plane's recurring hardware and software deficiencies have prompted expensive and time-consuming fixes, and a government-mandated deadline for deciding whether manufacturer Lockheed Martin should embark on full-rate production was delayed from 2020 -- and still not resolved.