The United Kingdom has welcomed home its first four F-35B Lightning IIs for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy at RAF Marham. Four aircraft from the newly-reformed No 617 Squadron Dambusters touched down at approximately 8pm on June 6, having flown direct from MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, where UK pilots have been undergoing training on the aircraft in partnership with the US Marine Corps.
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said: ‘In the RAF’s centenary year, it’s great to see the most advanced and dynamic fighter jet in our history arrive today at RAF Marham — and with the modern Dambusters in the cockpit, this homecoming truly feels like an historic moment in British airpower. If you can’t see us coming, you won’t be able to stop us, so with its stealth and other world-beating technologies the F35 Lightning takes the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy to a whole a new level of capability.’
‘This aircraft will truly transform how the UK conducts its defense operations and it is fitting that the next generation of combat air power has arrived as the RAF celebrates its centenary,’ said Peter Ruddock, Chief Executive, Lockheed Martin UK. ‘As a key partner in the F-35 programme from its early stages, the UK has been instrumental in shaping the design and development of the aircraft, particularly in relation to the short take-off and vertical landing capabilities.’
The program has also greatly benefitted UK industry with more than 500 British companies involved in the supply chain. Around 15 per cent by value of each of the more than 3,000 F-35 aircraft projected on the program is manufactured in the U.K. and to date, the programme has generated about $13 billion in contracts for British suppliers.
The aircraft have arrived two months ahead of schedule which will allow the UK Lightning Force to focus on achieving initial operational capability by the end of 2018. The first flight trials with the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers are expected later this year.
Around £550m has been invested in RAF Marham as part of a major change programme to get the base ready to house the new jets. The base has seen an upgrade in facilities, resurfaced runways and the addition of new landing pads to accommodate the jet’s ability to land vertically. Comprehensive sustainment support for the UK F-35s based at RAF Marham will be provided by Lightning Team UK, which represents the industry team of BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, and Rolls-Royce.
Wg Cdr John Butcher, OC No 617 Squadron led the flight of F-35s to the UK, supported by three Voyager tankers: