The pilot destined to command the F-35B Lightning Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) explained the new aircraft and the training of those who will fly and engineer it in a press release.

Wing Commander Scott Williams will become Officer Commanding 207 Squadron when it reforms in the summer of 2019. He is currently the UK’s Senior National Representative at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, the South Carolina base where more than 150 RAF and Royal Navy personnel are learning to fly, fight and engineer the F-35B. On the 13th of December last year, he also became the latest pilot to fly the Lightning says the release from the Royal Air Force.

“My first flight in the F-35B was incredible and certainly exceeded expectations. On take-off, the responsiveness and power of the engine were extremely impressive and the jet accelerated rapidly without afterburner. Once airborne, I was immediately struck by how smooth and agile the aircraft was to fly, and how seamlessly its sensors and mission systems gave me the information I needed – a real testament to the aircraft’s design. There were many airborne exercises to get through but I can confidently say that the Lightning does a great job of easing the workload in the cockpit and is a real pleasure to fly.”

With no two-seat F-35s the training of pilots is heavily reliant upon simulators as Wg Cdr Williams explained:

“Traditionally we train with the instructor in the back seat and the student in the front seat. If things don’t quite go according to plan then there’s someone over your shoulder who can take control, provide help and advice, and encourage the student to try again.

We can’t do that in the live environment on F-35 so the synthetic environment becomes crucial. Fortunately, the F-35 Full Mission Simulator allows you to train everything from the most basic skills, all the way up to teaching and assessing students in tactical formations against potent enemy threats.”

“Many legacy simulators have lacked the fidelity needed to train to high-end tactics, techniques and procedures but contemporary simulators can, and in future, we’ll use networks to train collectively in large virtual environments. That’s where we’re heading.”

This summer F-35s and personnel of 617 Squadron will arrive at RAF Marham. They will then undergo an intense phase of training to be able to declare a land-based Initial Operational Capability by the end of the year. The Lightning OCU, 207 Squadron will follow and occupy new buildings adjacent to the new Dambusters facilities at the Norfolk base in due course.

“We’re not just training pilots on the OCU. Cutting-edge facilities being built at RAF Marham, including our ‘School House’, will train engineers and ops support personnel destined for the Lightning Force. Next year we take what we’ve learned in the USA to the UK and re-form a historic squadron that will begin training all our future Lightning sailors and airmen. It’s a significant and exciting challenge.”

In the UK, 207 Squadron will initially operate five to six aircraft and within about two years have a full complement of eight F-35B. Until then UK personnel will remain an integral part of VMFAT-501, ‘Warlords’, the sole US Marine Corps F-35B training squadron. Commanded by a USMC Lieutenant Colonel, the UK provides a third of the unit’s manpower and a significant number of its instructor pilots.

“That’s a great relationship. Every day, US and UK personnel are flying and engineering each other’s aircraft in one large ‘pool’, which is brilliant” said Wg Cdr Williams.

“Ultimately, it means the UK and USMC can train faster than would otherwise be possible, and we learn a great deal more from each other’s experiences of operating this new jet.”

At the moment, Lightning engineers and mission support personnel are trained at Eglin AFB, Florida. The engineering personnel also use synthetic trainers and learn on equipment that is a step change from what they were taught on at RAF Cosford as Wg Cdr Williams explained:

“When you start peeling back what’s in this aeroplane it’s definitely next-generation stuff, right down to piping conduits and how your repair defects. There are some real engineering improvements from the ‘old school’; it’s a huge jump for the guys and girls on the team.”

One of the innovations of F-35 is the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) which gives F-35 operators the ability to plan, maintain and sustain the aircraft’s systems. Wg Cdr Williams:

“The engineers pull off the joint technical data from the ALIS system and it tells them ‘if this happens, this is how you fix it’. They follow the process and ALIS ticks the aircraft as ready to fly. When all the ticks are completed the aircraft can be released for flight.

In so many ways it’s a different way of doing things that we’ve done for Tornado, Harrier and, to an extent, the Typhoon as well. The F-35 is certainly a game-changing capability for the UK but it wouldn’t happen without a team of dedicated Airmen, Sailors and Marines who work hard every day toward the mission. It’s a huge privilege to be part of that.”


  1. The F35 is a game changer in the way air combat is fought.

    Forget about talk of 4th generation aircraft being able to compete, they are in a different league to the F22/F35.

    • Hi Mike,
      There’s been much talk about how well F-35 compliments 4th Gen such as Typhoon. Given the investment in Typhoon, do you see the next thirty years being about making those two work together or does F-35 just reshape the entire landscape no matter the role.

      • Ian

        We have made a considerable investment in Typhoon it can still play a role in the future.

        Could I suggest we compare the spitfire/hurricane partnership of the battle of Britain to the future F35/Typhoon one.

        Hurricane was completely out classed by the Me109, so they used the Spitfire in dogfights against the Me109 and used the Hurricanes against the bombers.

        However if you had to make a choice you would prefer Spitfires to Hurricanes and you would prefer F35 to Typhoons. I think if the UK could afford to replace Typhoons with F35 then it would do so, but the reality is it cannot.

        So we are where we are and our 160 Typhoons will be useful for many years to come as long as they come up against enemy 5th generation combat aircraft.

      • If I could propose a different view I would see the reverse of the above stated view. The typhoon is supposedly better at dogfight then the F35 therefore it would preform in a role similar to spitfire and act as the primary air supremacy fighter flying in mostly friendly skies. Where as the F35 is a much better multi role aircraft and would be much better suited to flying in hostile territory, meaning it would be used mostly in Operations in enemy territory fulfilling a number of roles.

      • I’ve seen articles on other sites suggesting using the F35B as a sensor node and almost “quarterback” (it was an American site) for 4th Gen fighters carrying far greater numbers of stores. The F35Bs in LO mode are able to cue up targets and transmit them for prosecution by aircraft such as F-15s (in the article’s case) or Typhoon (in our case) which carry far more stores in greater variety.

    • Think the analogy holds up very well. F-35s taking out for the greatest threats allowing Typhoons to do as much damage as possible.

    • Don’t think you should take my comparison to literally.

      It just means in combat the F35 will be superior to the Typhoon and all other 4th generation aircraft. That does not mean there are aspects of the Typhoon that will exceed the F,35 in certain areas. However given the stealth and situational awareness of the F35 it will not allow an opposing combat aircraft to to be at advantage to itself.

      You would not want to be in a Gloster Gladiator dogfighting a Me109, even though the former in more agile.

      • Presumably with the various on-going developments the Typhoon is enjoying its own situational awareness will also increase until eventually a degree of similarity is achieved between the F35 and Typhoon.

        At which point the key for the F35 is its stealth, that is unless over a similar timeframe developments in radar technology make this redundant.

        At which point it will be about speed, agility, survivability and weight. Under such an analysis with equivalence achieved in situational awareness and stealth sidestepped the Typhoon could become the superior aircraft? Does that seem possible?

      • What a really interesting debate ……
        During a century of air combat, 4 out-of-5 pilots shot-down never saw the aircraft that did it. One of the keys to success in a dogfight is giving a pilot exceptional situational awareness (plus an aircraft with good performance, exhilarating acceleration – and the ability to change direction quickly). The historian Mike Spick is worth reading on this subject …….
        Typhoon scores highly in all of these measures, indeed rather more highly than critics give it credit for.
        In general terms, I don’t disagree with where Mike is taking the argument ………
        but certainly don’t feel comfortable with the Hurricane or Gladiator analogy. Both aircraft were obsolescent, or approaching obsolescence in 1940 – indeed, the Hurricane was basically of bi-plane construction with a single wing! Typhoon is a leading edge, combat jet, superior to the F-35 in some flight regimes.
        Potentially, the F-35 programme promises to bring revolutionary advances in situational awareness to the pilot. If that proves to be the case, then indeed it may be a game-changer …..
        ……………. but America has made such promises before; the F-111, which later proved to be rather pedestrian, or their wonder air-to-air missiles of the 1950s which turned out to be so disappointing in Vietnam (actually the British Firestreak and Red Top proved to be superior, but the Brits were also taken in by the hype of American marketing).
        Who knows what the next ten years will bring, but I wouldn’t consign Typhoon to the dustbin just yet, indeed there is still an argument for topping up our inventory with a few more.

  2. Ginger Lacey did particularly well against 109’s in his Hurricane, a lot depended on the quality of the pilot then. As I assume it still does today…

    • As an “ace” pilot, Ginger was naturally gifted with situational awareness.
      He had good eye-sight, and usually saw his victim first – and therefore could get in the first shot. He also had an ability to keep track of the tactical situation around him, and stay out of trouble.
      He was also a good shot, or at least had the nerve to fly close to his target. Like all aces, he was lucky – and managed to stay alive long enough to build up a big score.
      Historically, aces were really important: about half of a squadron’s “kills” were scored by only a couple of pilots. Most other guys hit nothing, or were the victims of the aces on the other side.
      Today’s pilots have technology to bolster their natural-born situational awareness!

  3. If I can add to this discussion my thoughts on this partnership id say the F35 is the Brains and the Typhoon is the Brawn.History has served us well in this regard,the Hurricane was not without its share of successes in combat with the ME109,even against German aces.The trump card for the Typhoon I think will be the Meteor Missile and any future derivatives of it.If I was the MOD/RAF I would be making overtures to the Austrian Government about taking their 15 Typhoons off their hands if and when they change them for something more suited for their needs.If we could end up with a fleet of maybe 170/180 for seven Squadrons then focus on building the F35 programme up we should end up with an Air Arm to rival any in Europe .

  4. “The engineers pull off the joint technical data from the ALIS system and it tells them ‘if this happens, this is how you fix it’. They follow the process and ALIS ticks the aircraft as ready to fly. When all the ticks are completed the aircraft can be released for flight.”

    Ahh…the joys of BITE (Built in test equipment) . Its all fantastic as you follow the instructions , identify the defect as a black box, exchange the black box, flash up the system and…its still duff. Then its engineering time and using the knowledge and training you have to find what the real issue is …not what the computer thinks it is.

    • Wife took her Ford Fiesta to the garage. Their diagnostic box was broken so they had to send off for a diagnostic box for the diagnostic box.

  5. Since wgen did 8 aircraft squadrons become the norm? How does this squre with the opinion that a QE class carrier would always sail with a dozen f35 when deployed? Has this now increased to 16 or dropped to 8?

  6. I interpet this post to mean that HM Gov sees industrial potential in Typhoon. I think they are right. The F16, F-18, F-15 and Typhoon production lines are all threatened with closure, but there will still be a large export market for a good 4.5 generation plane which is compatible with the F-35, which itself will not be granted to a lot of potential opponents. The evidence is emerging that Typhoon is a worthy opponent for the F-22 which I am guessing means it is a viable export competitor to the Russian and Chinese 5 gen offerings. And it is now ( better late than never) an excelllent strike aircraft with some very effective missiles and a proven reasonable cost of ownership record.
    We should demonstrate our faith in the plane by ordering more tranche 3 for the RAF and selling on the Tranche 1’s FOC with a UK servicing package to countries looking to replace older Migs and F-16s.

  7. I simply do not buy all the hype about the F35 coming from the vested interests. As soon as a couple of JDAMs are stuck the wing pylons an F-35 becomes the most expensive bomb truck in history with about as much stealth as a 747. Maybe this is why the USAF are not giving up on 4th gen production. The recent US defence budget allocated $10.7 billion to purchase 77 F-35’s at a cost $139 million per aircraft. It also allocated $2.0 billion to purchase 24 F-18’s at $83 million per aircraft. That is 60% cheaper. I think it is folly to abandon Typhoon production. There is still much potential for further development. The Typhoon’s EJ200 engines are said to be the most reliable military jet engines ever fielded by any air force. The systems are now mature and debugged. Contrast this with the reported troubles of the F-35 and limited experience on reliability and availablity. The requirement to perform all engine overhauls exclusively in Turkey and all heavy airframe repair, maintanance and overhaul at Faco in Italy may have serious consequencies on operational availablity it some point in the future. Can the UK afford (both figuratively and literally) to put all its eggs in the F-35 basket?

  8. Quick back of a fag packet calculation. Say the defending AA missile has a range of 180miles at mach 3 i.e. fuel for 6 minutes. Typhoon will carry Storm Shadow for large bunker busting missions. It has a range north of 250 miles. So far so good.
    Both Typhoon and F-35B will carry Spear 3 for smaller and mobile targets. It will have a range of at least 60 miles, so even if you approach under the radar horizon you will be at risk if you are popping up as it were to lock the Spear 3 onto their targets. But say optmistically that you are undetected or unidentified at this point and you release the missiles before turning around and hitting the after burners. The AA missile will take just 2 minutes to reach the release the point you were when you released the missiles. At mach 2 you will be another 40 miles away. The AA missiles closing speed is mach 1 and he has another 4 minutes of fuel so if he has a fully active seeker locked on he will get you after another 8 miles or 2.5 minutes if you can’t decoy him.
    Conclusions: F-35 technology is needed to minimise chances of initial detection and successful pusuit by the AA missile. Also advisable is A2A refuelling. Also you can see why Spear 3 needs to have a range of 90 miles or so, double the range of the SDB. You can also see why the Russian S-400 longer range versions pose a problem.
    Scholarship question. In light of the above are the QE carriers is F-35B non a2a refuelling F-35B really only an Invincible class fleet carrier replacement, suitable for intercepting Bears and Backfires in the North Atlantic?

    • Not a rebuttal because I’m no expert but one observation is how meaningful back-of-fag-packet calculations can be here. For instance one of your basic assumptions is that the AA missile has “a range of 180 miles at mach 3 i.e. fuel for 6 minutes”. Wouldn’t that be massively variable depending on altitude, the number of manoeuvres it needs to do on its way to the intercept, etc? Admittedly your b-o-f-p calculation gives the missile quite a bit of leeway in that it has 4 minutes of fuel left but only needs 2.5 minutes to catch up so maybe those other variables would’t be enough to affect whether the missile caught up at the Spear 3 stand-off distances being considered but maybe worth considering.

      • I took it into my head to play with a few numbers. I confess I am not expert. I’m sure if they were allowed by the official secrets act the professionals would tear me apart with technical stuff on decoys and jamming etc. And by AA I actually was thinking of the Russian S-400 system.
        But the exercise does point to why the powered Spead 3 is much better than the US small diameter bomb. Specifically if you can get its range up to 90 miles you could argue that with a low level approach you don’t need stealth even when attacking a target defended by the longest range versions of the S-400. Typhoon will carry Spear 3 so that translates into an argument that you don’t need as many F-35s and maybe a split buy of 48Bs for the carriers and 48As for long range strike are enough. Couple that with retiring or selling on the Tranche 1 Typhoons and ordering more Tranche 3s and you can see where I am going with this; the RAF get the long range bomber they would like, the FAA is happy and there is job creation and the possibility of more Typhoon exports from BAE Wharton.

  9. The S400 has been mooted as the best SAM system currently fielded. The main system benefit is that it is networked and modular as it does not rely on a pair of search/track radars. It was designed to counter the F35 specifically and it does this by using a multitude of different radars operating in different bands of the spectrum, spread around the perceived threat axis. Therefore by networking the radars together you can get a very astute picture of anything that enters your defended area.

    To counter this, you require data from ELINT aircraft. These will measure the radar transmissions, signal strength and waveform patterns. You can then use the F35 to target the weak areas of defended area, using it carry out further data gathering and SEAD missions. This will whittle down the number of available radar to cover the whole spectrum allowing holes to appear in the defended area. This also plays into logistics, i.e. the speed at which your adversary can get replacement radars up and running to replace those destroyed.

    The S400 has a plethora of missile types and can network control older missiles. It can use both semi-active and active as well IR guided. However, the old adage of going in low level still is valid today as it was in the Cold War. The radar has to see you first before it can send a missile your way. Therefore, if you approach it with terrain masking you have a very good chance of getting it before it can get you! Further, if you get briefly spotted and they launch a missile in your general direction, you have to be in the seekers cone of visibility for it to track you, therefore you would try to fly unpredictably.

    Everyone must remember that the F35 is a multi-role aircraft, but it was specifically designed as a strike aircraft to counter heavily defended high value targets. It has a secondary air to air role, but it is not by design an out and out dogfighter, like the Typhoon. Two different aircraft two different design criteria. However, they will complement each other predominantly in the Strike role. Without air to air refuelling the F35B will struggle in the Interceptor role. The Typhoon has the legs as it was designed to replace Tornado F3s operating in the Norway/Iceland area.

    Realistically the Typhoon is still in the early stages of its development. The EJ200 engines are basically running in Eco mode. and have a minimum of 30% untapped engine growth and we haven’t mentioned the multi-axis thrust vectoring, conformal fuel tanks and CAPTOR-E AESA radar. The aircraft also has very basic RAM matting added to the leading edges of the wings, engine intake and fin. It has been speculated that the aircraft has a current RCS similar to a Hawk. This could be further developed if there was willing and improved greatly to a level comparable with the J31. We just need the MOD to contract BAE to ensure development of the aircraft rather than waiting on the partner Nations to agree, which has proven hinders rapid development!.

  10. Two Points I’d like to make.

    1. The S400 SAM system is reputed to be the best system currently in production and “deployable”. Further it was specifically designed to counter stealthy aircraft namely the F35. It does this by being a networked system. By this, I mean it uses more than a pair of radars for search and track (>5). These are placed along the perceived threat axis and cover a full spectrum of frequencies. By using a broad spectrum of frequencies makes it much harder for an aircraft designers to combat these using radar absorbent material (RAM) as it adds bulk and weight. To get the best coverage the RAM must be able to counter frequencies from 800MHz up to 20GHz plus. Therefore due to the weight limitations the F35 is probably designed specifically to counter tracking radar 6GHz and above, as this material can be made smaller and thinner = less weight to counter these fgrequencies.

    The S400 has a plethora of active/semi-active/IR missile options from extra long range (400Km) to short range (30 Km) and can also network control older systems. However it must first detect the threat and then try and track it. This is where ELINT aircraft are so very much needed, they hoover up the data from enemy radar transmission, data links and communications to build a electronic picture of the defended area which can then be systematically targeted.

    The F35 will play a key role in this, being our primary strike fighter/bomber. It will target weaknesses in the enemies radar coverage and try to destroy key radar transmitters. This will develop in to a hole where their radar is ineffective allowing key strike packages through to the priority targets. The Cold War principle as used by Tornado of using terrain masking will still be valid today as it was then. However, a F35 will be able to get much closer without being detected. If it is briefly detected and the SAM launches into the area where it thinks the aircraft is operating. The aircraft has high frequency stealth on its side, whereby it is designed to counter the frequencies used in active missiles (not sure if S400 has two way data link).

    2. The F35 has been primarily designed as a strike aircraft with a secondary air to air role. It can use its stealth qualities to get into missile range before the target sees it (especially if equipped with Meteor). The problem it has is that it has a relative short range and a low payload due to the need to house it weapons internally to maintain its stealth.

    The Typhoon was designed to counter the Mig29 and the Su27 in dogfights, but also to replace the Tornado F3 in long range interdiction. Therefore it had to be able to maintain a CAP whilst a long way from home, so needed a large payload. To increase the missile kinetic velocity it had to operate at high speeds, preferably supersonic. It dose this by using a wing design married to an engine that can supercruise i.e. go supersonic without using reheat.

    The Typhoon is still in its development infancy. The EJ200 engines are currently working in an ECO setting, as there’s at least 30% untapped growth. The aircraft has yet to be fitted with 3D thrust vectoring to further enhance it agility and pointability. Conformal fuel tanks are on the way to increase range and free up weapon stations. CAPTOR-E AESA radar is on the way which when paired with Meteor will be a game changer for multiple long distance engagements. The aircraft currently is said to have a RCS similar to a Hawk, by using a RAM in the engine intakes and leading edges. This could be further enhanced by using modern RAM techniques to give a theoretical RCS equivalent to the Chinese J31.

    Therefore two different aircraft for two different primary purposes, but equally, can compliment each other when paired together.

    • It was a very interesting and educational post so the double post was worthwhile. Lie down and rest after all that brain work 👍


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