The first of Britain’s new F-35Bs have landed in the United Kingdom at RAF Marham.

The first of Britain’s new F-35 Lightning aircraft took off from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina earlier today.

They werwe flown by British pilots of the newly-reformed 617 Squadron, which was immortalised by the famous Dambusters’ raid during World War II.

The F-35s’ planned arrival two months ahead of schedule will provide an opportunity for support staff to get a head-start in preparing the aircraft for operational service at the end of this year.

Around £550m has been invested in RAF Marham as part of a major programme to get the base ready to house the new jets, including a facilities upgrade, resurfaced runways and new landing pads to accommodate the jet’s ability to land vertically.

This autumn, the first landing of the F-35 will take place on HMS Queen Elizabeth in the next phase of trials. Having both ship and aircraft operating together for the first time will be another significant moment for the Armed Forces.

The Lightning, as the aircraft will be known in the UK, is the first to combine radar-evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds and the ability to conduct short take-offs and vertical landings. It will be jointly operated by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy and can operate from land and sea, forming a vital part of ‘carrier strike’, the use of the aircraft from Britain’s new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.

This is the first tranche of F-35s to arrive, with RAF Voyager aircraft providing air-to-air refuelling on their trans-Atlantic journey. More jets are due in Britain later this year, and there is an overall plan to procure 138.

The F-35 is the world’s largest defence programme at over $1.3 trillion, and UK industry is providing 15% of every one of over 3,000 jets set for the global order book. That makes the economic impact greater than if we were building 100% of all 138 aircraft which we intend to buy.

59 COMMENTS

  1. The last paragraph really puts it in perspective:

    “The F-35 is the world’s largest defence programme at over $1.3 trillion, and UK industry is providing 15% of every one of over 3,000 jets set for the global order book. That makes the economic impact greater than if we were building 100% of all 138 aircraft which we intend to buy.”

    • Totally agree, was going to post the same but you got their first!

      Participation of a US Fighter Program that could lead to global sales in the thousands is very beneficial for UK PLc.

      • (Chris H) Being but a simple chap I did a rough calculation which showed that 15% of the total programme is more than the cost to the UK of 138 F-35Bs … And any currency fluctuation is actually neutralised (purchases of new aircraft vs sales of component parts) Of course the Social Media experts and tabloids never quite latch on to that …

  2. Great day and the start of a new era for both the RAF and pretty soon Royal Navy carrier aviation.
    Thanks to UKDJ for the live coverage .

  3. Truly superb news.
    I can imagine the BBC or others panning and slagging this off, but great to see our carrier cabability slowly coming together.

    I just hope all 138 F35 are bought.
    I always expected some A and C varients to be mixed in with the B, but hopefully at least 100 B’s for both our QE class for full deployment and training.

    • The BBC would be one of the last. It’s the tabloids that will find any tiny problem and make it sound like some sort of scandal. Absolutely no point in the C variant for the RN, A might be nice but with the budget, it makes much more sense to standardise for the sake of maintenance, spare parts, and training.

  4. I know this is rather early but will the first few test aircraft end up as static displays at places like Duxford. I live quite close and have been a few times but would go again if they have one of these.

  5. I think most on here will agree a long day coming.
    The date is highly symbolic also.
    Hope the press covers this in a manner befitting!

  6. A good day for U.K. Defence indeed. Now give the programme the space and the time to get on with what it needs to do. And let’s hope that one day that will include Stormshadow and LRASM integration.

  7. Great news. Incidentally, the 48th FW at RAF Lakenheath is to re-equip with F35As in 2020. That should provide great opportunities to train with the Americans.

    • (Chris H) – I was pondering this just this week (I live in Suffolk) and I suspect it may be that crews from Lakenheath will be getting initial type training at Marham and then US / F-35A specific training nearer the time… After all we do owe the Yanks a favour or three on training

    • Your just saying that to stir the pot. You know as well as anyone else that these 4 are just the beginning. Another 5 will follow in August, 15 have been delivered in the US, 48 are on order and 138 plan on being brought overall. You would know that if you had actually bothered to read the article.

      • (Chris H) Chris – Its TH what do you expect? As if anyone knows (other than the Treasury and MoD) what these aircraft actually cost. But whatever they do cost its money well spent and we now have a major advance in capability

    • TH wrote:
      Just 4

      From 6 months ago in Dec 17:
      “The UK has taken delivery of its 14th F-35B Lightning II which flew into Beaufort, South Carolina, to take its place as part of the Lightning Fleet, set to operate from HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales.2

    • Yep, Hellions had already circulated this. No different to any other major complex programme and technology. They will eventually fix most of these issues. Some don’t have a fix I expect and operational workarounds will have to be developed as part of the SOPs. Bet you’ll never see an article outlining all the areas in which the aircraft exceeds the operational requirements, though… If A400M and Voyager are anything to go by, for every contractual shortfall there are ten to a hundred areas where the aircraft exceed contractual requirements. I suspect F-35 is no different.

    • The GAO has absolutely no power to do anything and will be totally ignored by both the Pentagon and Congress. Further, the GAO has had it in for the F-35 program and has never acknowledged anything good about it. The media loves to publish negative articles but the upshot of this GAO report will be the same as the overwhelming majority of its reports. A one day splash in the Media and then totally ignored and forgotten the next day. It will only be resurrected when some reporter is looking for fodder to write another negative story about the F-35. And no one, again, will pay any attention to it.

  8. It’s truly a special moment when a new combat type comes into service. It was fantastic watching the DJ live updates and the web stream on FB. I wonder if the aircrew went straight to the mess for a few beers after their long trip? Probably not, too professional 😉

    • Are you sure about that? Have you seen the performance data? Have you considered how much it cost because of tweaking designs et al.

  9. Great news. I wish the RN would restore the FAA so all carrier based Lightnings could specialise in the necessary expertise for carrier strike.

  10. Love the image at top of this article. They really are beautiful from this angle. Watched it live last night. A very significant moment and many congratulations to all who made it happen. We are rebuilding a balanced state of the art armed forces in part. Numbers tho. MDP. Let’s see what happens.

  11. Here’s a thought to mull over. It is increasingly looking like the RAF will get some A models, so we could see the B aircraft all in dark blue squadrons and the A aircraft in light blue. All the training will still be at Marham, and it stops the endless debate about mixed squadrons.

      • If they’ve spent over half a billion pounds upgrading Marham which already had HAS and other hardened features and SSA for complex weapons how much to upgrade RNAS Yeovilton? Leave them at Marham.

        • I think depending on numbers in service, there is a good train to co-base at yeovilton. What happens if we do end up eventually with 5 active squadrons, are we putting all our eggs in one basket? I heard that the f35 is too noisy for yeovilton, is this true? 3 front line fast jet bases just isn’t enough.

    • The RAF ‘might’ get some A models to replace the two Squadrons of batch 1 Typhoons post 2030 …. ‘might’

      Personally I would prefer an all B force with low signature drop tanks and Carrier borne AAR.

      The obvious choice for the RAF would be the C model,
      ( an excellent fit) but operating carrier capable aircraft without a suitable Carrier would be just too politically unpalatable for the MOD.

  12. Excellent news, these four will be put straight to trials work and give the QE aircraft handling crews direct access to the real thing for early hands on training.

    All two months early too….

  13. Sceptical Richard, my comment was made by putting two and two together and seeing if they add up. I am sure that the RAF would like to get their hands on the A model, greater range, bigger weapons bay etc, with the B’s then solely focused on the carrier strike role. You would need to have more than 48 B’s to support say three squadrons plus an OCU and maintenance etc, but the rest of the 138 could then be A models.
    Mar ham has the infrastructure so that would remain as the main base for training and support, and the country gets a better and bigger mix of aircraft. Let’s face it we are living through very troubling times, particularly with Comrade Putin seeming to want to be in charge for ever, so the best is always going to be needed. However, we have the Treasury to contend with, and I suspect no senior civil servant, or the Chancellor, has ever been shot at in anger.

    • (Chris H) Nick C – we keep having this non fact dragged out and I wonder why?
      * The A model is no QRA / Interceptor like the Typhoon is now and will be in the future.
      * The A model cannot lift the weapon load the Typhoon bomb truck will as of next year.
      * The A model cannot Supercruise at the speed or range of a Typhoon – This is critical
      * The B model once airborne is as lethal in sensor and suppression roles as an A model.
      * Combining the ‘B’ and the Typhoon gives the UK a world beating multi role capability that uses ‘stealth’ as it should be and then data linking technology to target and launch a big weapon load.

      Sorry the UK really has no need for an F-35A other than for some Gold Braid Desk Lords wanting to copy the USAF. What we need is a Typhoon II to take us beyond 2035 and maybe some F-35C if Cats & Traps are fitted to the carriers in mid life refits.

      • Chris, could not agree more, ordering the A would be a big mistake. It would add a third fast jet fleet, with increased costs in training and stores pipelines. It would also limit our carrier air wings and finally take the RAFs eyes off supporting the carriers.

  14. Richard, Lockheed Martin’s website for the F35 website provides the information about the 48th FW at Lakenheath) being selected as the first European US F35 unit. Wikipedia contains a reference to a Global Aviation Report article on the matter. The 48th own website explains that two squadrons will reequip with F35A, starting in 2021 (the other articles list 2020). I understand you’re likely to be skeptical, though…

    • Nick – great news and a massive step in capability will be achieved.As has been mentioned on this site before there is still lots of questions to be answered as to the advantages and disadvantages of the various F35 models.The Italian Armed forces will as I understand operate the A and the B model,but as you say the USAF at Lakenheath will undoubtably train and operate their ‘A’s in conjunction with the RAF so logic says that it will soon be apparent if there is indeed anything to be gained from the RAF/FAA getting a mixed fleet.

    • No, I’m just seeking justification to the rumours that the RAF (as opposed to the USAF in Europe) is going to fly the A model, that’s all. To my knowledge that’s not in the plans. I’ve been witness so many times in as many years to rumours and wish lists of what the RAF or Navy wants or will do, but until I see an endorsed Staff Requirement with a budget behind it, I won’t believe it. When Typhoon finally goes out of service, then perhaps yes, an additional buy of As, but that’s a long way away yet. And as for the RAF allowing the RN to paint their aircraft in FAA colours again? Well, that’s for the birds…

  15. I have been waiting for this for years, and missed it due to work commitments… bugger..

    Anyhow – what a great day for the UK and for our armed forces. This is the kind of thing that makes people want to join our forces, lets have more please

    • Same. Up to me eyes the next 2 days as well, just catching up.

      On another comment, if there’s As as well as Bs, there should be twice as many Bs as As, and the RAF can fly off the carriers as well. But unless there’s a large advantage of the A variant over the B, I’d say stick to Bs so they can all be off carriers or land, cut the logistics, training and maintenance costs over the lifetime. And the cost of the B will be well done by the time of ordering the next load of the 138.

    • Correct, 5 started out. However, it was planned that the 5th would turn back after the other 4 had refuelled for the first time, which is what happened. Not sure if the 5th F35 was there just in case one of the others developed a fault early on and in that instance could have carried on to ensure 4 arrived in the UK–maybe someone has more information? Anyhow, the plan was that 4 should arrive, not the 5th.

  16. Guys – Re: Photos, I was out on the runway with them when they arrived at Marham. Images are on my twitter feed @Olympusukpro and if UKDJ wants them, then please just ask me.

  17. A quote from a j uniour defence minister was a commitment to 138 F35 of which the first 48 would be the B version, I think therefore a mixed buy us not imorobbibke. If that us the case then I think the F35B should be an all RN force.

  18. Fantastic pictures! More aircraft soonest please so we can have two squadrons stood up within 12 months. We have the pilots……

  19. lightning is a great name for two great aircraft of the past and for the F-35. But do people see why I keep on thinking Buccaneer? Especially from the side.

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