The F-35B, which a year ago was in the midst of major scrutiny for dismal testing performance, has taken a major step with its first landing on the U.S. Marine Corps’ USS Wasp amphibious ship.

The F-35 Joint Program Office confirmed the landing Oct. 3. A second short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (Stovl) Joint Strike Fighter is expected to arrive on the ship within days, kicking off a series of ship trials designed to ensure the F-35B can operate on the Marine Corps’ amphibious ship decks.

The trials will include 67 vertical landings as well as a variety of tests to ensure operators can move the aircraft on deck as well as operate around them; the deck space is limited.

Only a year ago, Lockheed Martin was under severe pressure to improve testing on the Stovl jets, owing to delayed deliveries of test jets to the fleet and a standstill on vertical landings. At the time, BF-1 was the only aircraft outfitted for vertical landing testing and it encountered reliability issues. Since then, however, the Stovl fleet has regained steam with a turnaround in vertical landing testing.

U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, commandant for aviation, says he hopes to declare initial operational capability in 2015 if possible; that was originally slated for 2012 and then later slipped to 2014 due to delays in development. The Marine Corps Aviation Plan, signed last year, calls for 10 F-35Bs equipped with Block IIB software, with six capable of austere and/or ship-based operations, and a flight envelope of 7g and 50-deg. angle of attack before initial operational capability can be declared.

The first F-35B is slated to be delivered to Eglin AFB, Fla., in advance of pilot training in November. However, actual pilot training operations could take until next spring to begin.

As of Oct. 1, the F-35 test fleet is outpacing its schedule for 2011, according to Lockheed Martin, having conducted 701 flights against a plan of 645. The stovl variant has flown 244 flights, the F-35A conventional-takeoff-and-landing variant 347 flights, and the F-35C carrier variant 110 flights. The F-35B has performed 183 vertical landings this year, the company says.