The first four Royal Air Force Lockheed Martin F-35B Lighting IIs arrived at their new home base at RAF Marham in Norfolk on June 6.
The four aircraft of 617Sqn ‘Dambusters’ ferried across the Atlantic Ocean from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort in North Carolina where they have been based as the RAF built up a critical mass of trained pilots and support personnel. The F-35Bs were refuelled on the non-stop ferry by two RAF Airbus A330 MRTT Voyagers.
“This aircraft will truly transform how the UK conducts its defence operations and it is fitting that the next generation of combat air power has arrived as the RAF celebrates its centenary,” Lockheed Martin UK Chief Executive, Peter Ruddock said in a statement.
“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 ferry to the UK of the first four jets was conducted two months ahead of schedule, and the RAF now has a total of 15 F-35Bs in service at RAF Marham, MCAS Beaufort, and with the JSF Combined Test Force (CTF) at Edwards AFB in California.
617Sqn will continue to work up to before conducting its first at-sea trials aboard the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth later this year, and to achieve an initial operational capability (IOC) by the end of 2018.
UPDATE – The UK’s carrier trials will be conducted by an RAF, RN and BAE Systems flight test team currently based at MCAS Beaufort, not by 617Sqn. Thanks to Rob H for the clarification.