The Royal Air Force has established its first squadron of F-35B Lightning STOVL fighters, and at the same time has revived one of the most famous squadrons in its history.
At an April 17 ceremony at Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington DC, the RAF re-established 617 Sqdn to operate the F-35B with a combined cadre of RAF and Royal Navy crews.
Better known as ‘The Dambusters’, 617 Sqdn will initially be based alongside US Marine Corps units at NAS Beaufort in North Carolina before relocating to its home base at RAF Marham in the UK with nine of its planned 15 aircraft in mid-2018.
The F-35 “really is a leap forward compared to anything we operated before,” commanding officer Wing Commander John Butcher told media at the event. “The fact that it can see and hear at such significant ranges, it has all the sensors and the technology that will support the pilot in the cockpit to make quick, good decisions—that for me is the thing that changes with this platform.”
The unit gained famed following a successful raid by 19 modified Lancaster bombers using bouncing bombs against three dams in Germany’s Ruhr Valley in May 1943, which disrupted Germany’s war manufacturing effort at the time. It was last dis-established in 2014 with the retirement of its Tornado GR.4 strike aircraft.