The Royal Air Force (RAF’s) 617 ‘Dambusters’ Squadron arrived in the UK with the first of its Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) on 6 June.
Four of the squadron’s short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) jets touched down at their future homebase of RAF Marham having made the 6,500 km from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort in South Carolina, accompanied by Airbus Voyager tankers.
While this is not the first time that F-35s have visited the UK (three UK and US Marine Corps F-35Bs and US Air Force F-35A aircraft crossed the Atlantic for the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Airshow in 2016), it marks the permanent basing of the aircraft in the country, as well as the stand-up of F-35B operations at RAF Marham.
With 617 Sqn moving its aircraft and personnel to the UK, 17 Reserve Sqn will remain at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in the US to continue to test the F-35B and its weapon systems beyond the planned 2019 declaration of initial operating capability (IOC) for the aircraft.
Beyond 617 Sqn, the UK plans to stand-up 809 ‘Immortals’ Naval Air Squadron (NAS) as the second operational unit for the F-35B in 2023. Both of these will be served by 207 Squadron as the type’s Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) from 2019. All of these units are and will be staffed by a mix of RAF and Royal Navy (RN) pilots and maintainers.
The UK has to date received 15 of its planned 138 F-35 jets (this number will be procured over the life of the programme and will not all be fielded at one time).
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