The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has finally made its UK debut, with the arrival of three short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B and three conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) F-35A aircraft at Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford in Gloucester.
The F-35Bs - two from the US Marine Corps (USMC) and one from the RAF/Royal Navy (RN) - touched down on 29 June after a trans-Atlantic crossing that was supported by a US Air Force (USAF) McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender aerial refuelling tanker. The USAF F-35As arrived the following day with a KC-10A tanker.
All six aircraft are in the UK to support the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) taking place at RAF Fairford from 8 to 10 July. The three F-35Bs will then go on to the Farnborough International Airshow running from 11 to 17 July, while the F-35As will return home after RIAT.
While not the first time that the F-35 has flown between the US and Europe - Italian and Dutch F-35As have accomplished that milestone already this year - it does mark the first time that the F-35B has made the crossing, and demonstrates increased resilience and a growing confidence in the international 'next generation fighter' programme. This will be especially welcome given the embarrassment of two years ago, when the planned UK debut at RIAT and Farnborough was cancelled just days before because of an engine fire in the US that grounded the fleet.
The F-35's appearance at both RIAT and Farnborough will give the UK defence establishment the opportunity to see for the first time the jet that will furnish its future Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers at sea, and which will replace its Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft on land.
As announced by the government in its Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015, the UK is to receive its full quota of 138 operational F-35Bs, of which the first 10 have so far been contracted.
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