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UK stands up second operational F-35B squadron

The UK stood up 809 NAS as its second front-line F-35B unit at RAF Marham on 8 December 2023. (Janes/Gareth Jennings )

The UK stood up its second operational squadron for the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning combat aircraft on 8 December.

The Royal Navy's (RN's) 809 ‘Immortals' Naval Air Squadron (NAS) was reconstituted at the home of the Lightning Force at Royal Air Force (RAF) Marham in Norfolk.

The squadron joins the RAF's 617 ‘Dambusters' Squadron as the UK's two front-line units for the ‘fifth-generation' short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) jet, with 207 Sqn serving as the operational conversion unit (OCU) at the same location, and 17 Test and Evaluation Sqn at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California.

As with 617 Sqn, 809 NAS is drawn from both the RAF and the RN, with both services performing land- and carrier-based operations of the aircraft.

First formed in 1941 as a Fairey Fulmar unit, 809 NAS operated Supermarine Seafires, De Havilland Sea Hornets, De Havilland Sea Venoms, Blackburn Buccaneers, and most recently Hawker Sea Harriers before being disbanded in December 1982 following the Falklands war. The reconstitution of 809 NAS came around five months after Janes reported that the milestone had been delayed because of manning problems, which now appear to have been overcome.

The addition of 809 NAS will allow the declaration of 2023 Carrier Strike full operating capability (FOC), which equates to the ability to embark up to two front-line units on either of the RN's two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

As of September, the UK had received 34 of 48 Tranche 1 F-35Bs (including one that was lost in an accident while operating from carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth

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