FOLLOWING THE arrival of three F-35B Lightning IIs in the UK, two of these aircraft flew over their future homes.
The two F-35Bs RAF/Royal Navy example ZM137 and 168727 ‘VM-19’ from the US Marine Corps’ VMFAT-501, performed flypasts over the aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth (R 08) and HMS Prince of Wales (R 09), which are under construction in Rosyth Dockyard. Following this, they flew on to their planned shore base at RAF Marham, Norfolk, where another flypast was performed, this time accompanied by one of the base’s resident Tornado GR4s. A demonstration of the type’s STOVL capabilities was also performed with the USMC aircraft.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: “The F-35Bs are the most advanced fast jets in the world. Whether operating from land or from one of our two new aircraft carriers, they will ensure we have a formidable fighting force. They are part of our plan for a stronger and better defence: more ships, more aircraft, more troops available at readiness, better equipment for special forces, more being spent on cyber – to deal with the increased threats to our country.”
The F-35B will be operated initially by 617 ‘Dambusters’ Squadron, Royal Air Force, and subsequently by 809 Naval Air Squadron ‘The Immortals’.
The head of the Fleet Air Arm, Rear Admiral Keith Blount OBE, said: “Today marks a significant milestone in the nation’s return to aircraft carrier aviation and carrier strike. Both ships have been designed from the keel up to operate with the F-35B and the RAF and Royal Navy are working ever closer to see fixed-wing aircraft once more operating from Royal Navy Aircraft Carriers. I feel very proud to be part of it.”
The carriers will provide over four-acres of sovereign territory which can be deployed around the world, travelling at upwards of 500nm (925km) a day. Both ships are capable of carrying up to 36 F-35Bs.
Air Vice Marshall Gerry Mayhew, Air Officer Commanding 1 Group, said: “It was a proud and exciting moment to have the F-35B Lightning II fly overhead RAF Marham for the first time today. Alongside Typhoon, the Lightning II will offer the RAF and Royal Navy a cutting edge front line strike capability and also offer the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history. I have no doubt the Lightning II will act as an inspiration for the current and future members of both services.”
Marham becomes the F-35B’s home base in 2018. The Station has already started to prepare for the aircraft’s arrival with work to provide the necessary infrastructure and support facilities.
The three jets arrived in the UK for the first time earlier this week after a nine hour transatlantic crossing. They will take centre stage in a number of air shows around this country this summer, principally the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire from July 8-10 and the Farnborough International Airshow from July 11-17.