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First UK ab initio pilots graduate onto the F-35B

25 January 2018

The United Kingdom has graduated its first ab initio student pilots onto the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), it was announced on 25 January.

Flight Lieutenant Liam from the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Lieutenant Chris (both surnames were withheld, for security reasons) from the Royal Navy (RN) have become the first pilots from their respective services to fly the F-35B straight out of flight training.

Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots are now converting onto the F-35B directly from flight school, as the UK programme begins to transition from test and development to operations. (Crown Copyright)Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots are now converting onto the F-35B directly from flight school, as the UK programme begins to transition from test and development to operations. (Crown Copyright)

To date, the cadre of UK Lightning pilots has all transitioned from other aircraft. Given that there is no two-seat trainer derivative of the F-35B, both ab initio students were accompanied on their first solo sorties by instructors flying in other aircraft.

The announcement of this milestone in the United Kingdom’s F-35B programme comes about 11 months after the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed to Jane's that it had signed the aircraft’s initial release to service (RTS).

The RTS set out the safe operating envelope for the F-35B, allowing for peacetime training of pilots on the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft, including for the first time ab initio students.

RAF and RN Fleet Air Arm (FAA) F-35B personnel are currently stationed at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort in South Carolina. With the first US Marine Corps (USMC) ab initio students (dubbed Cat 1 by the service) having entered into training in mid-2016, the syllabus is now being followed by UK students. The fifth-generation F-35 presents a new raft of capabilities and opportunities compared with earlier fourth-generation types, and these have had to be incorporated into the pilot training regimen.

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