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​Sailors prepare to equip an F-35B with inert 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided test bombs during flight operations aboard the USS America. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyle Goldberg.

​The vertical takeoff version of the F-35 hit a major milestone in November, finishing weapons load testing at sea. An F-35B aboard the USS America went through “an aggressive test plan,” including shipboard launch and recovery expansion test points focused on different aircraft weights in flight, according to a Navy release. A weapons team conducted load tests on the F-35B on land, and then tested all takeoff and landing worst-case scenarios, the release states. Pilots conducted test flights in “unfavorable environmental conditions” to put the strike fighter through its paces. “We can't choose the battle and the location of the battle, so sometimes we have to go into rough seas with heavy swells, heave, roll, pitch, and crosswinds,” test pilot RAF Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, an F-35 test pilot embedded at the Pax River Integrated Test Force, said in the release. The test is a step toward F-35 crews getting clearance to carry weapons with rough seas and rough conditions. “We know the jet can handle it,” Edgell said.