617 Squadron, immortalised by the Dambuster raid of World War II, has been reformed to fly the UK’s new F-35 fighter jets, the Defence Secretary has announced.

Gavin Williamson announced the new 617 Squadron after an event in Washington DC to mark the centenary of the RAF, which was attended by Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“The 617 Squadron name was made famous by ‘The Dambusters’, who played such a vital role in the Second World War. So it is fitting that by flying the world’s most advanced fighter jets, our new squadron will be ensuring that the legend of world-leading air power lives on. The F-35B Lightning will defend our nation and ensure that Britain remains a pioneer in innovation, with a unique ability to adapt to this increasingly dangerous world.

The UK is currently flying the F-35B Lightning, a multi-role fighter jet capable of a wide range of operations. It is the world’s first jet to combine radar evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds and short take-off and landing capability.”

Lightning Force Commander Air Commodore David Bradshaw said:

“This is a most momentous day for the UK Lightning Force as we celebrate the reformation of 617 Squadron. Manned by highly capable Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel and equipped with the truly remarkable F-35B Lightning, 617 Squadron will once again provide potent, flexible Air Power for the nation.

In a simple yet highly significant ceremony held in the heart of Washington DC amongst friends and colleagues as part of celebrations for RAF100, the famous Dambusters marked the start of another exciting chapter in their Squadron’s proud history. I very much look forward to welcoming 617 Squadron home to RAF Marham this summer as they prepare for operational service from land and sea.”

Today’s 617 Squadron, currently training with the UK’s 15 F-35B Lightning jets in America, will move to the UK with a number of aircraft to their new home at RAF Marham this Summer. Like their predecessors they will be operating at the forefront of aircraft technology. The aircraft will be jointly operated by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy and have the ability to operate from land and sea, forming an integral part of Carrier Strike operating from the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.

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There seems to be mixed messages about when the QEC flight trials will take place. As this latest statement refers to returning this summer, I assume the autumn QEC/F35 trials have been moved forward to some point in the near future?


And R08 heads over to the US for fast jet flight trials at some point as well. Seems a little unclear I agree


As far as I can tell flying trials won’t be conducted with 617 squadron jets but with independent trial jets and therefore the trials are unrelated to 617 squadron returning to the UK. I may be wrong with that however, just the impression I had.

Dave Simpson

Correct – the first of class trials will be carried out by the ITF and 17R – not 617 Sqn,


Thanks both. There have been RAF/RN pilots in the States flying the F35 for years. Does this mean that 617 SQ is going to become (almost immediately) operational when the jets land in the UK, or is there an additional period of testing to come that isn’t related to carrier operations?


Yes, I believe that is correct. But the 617 squadron was meant to be coming back on the QEC after the trials – not flying back separately. If that is in the summer then the trials must be soon.


I thought big lizzy was currently in Rosyeth covered in scaffolding? Can’t be that soon


if its true the u.k has taken delivery of the 15th f 35b at fort worth in the u.s i’d imagine there is now enough in place to bring flight testing an air wing forward a considerable way


Despite some of the naysayers we do have a decent number of F-35B in the US at the moment and I would imagine that initially it is going to be relatively few aircraft involved in the first trials on QEC so it is conceivable that some of our F-35B are coming across to the U.K. to get started on bedding them in there while the remainder stay in the US for the initial QEC trials. If at some point even in these first QEC trials they need a few more airframes to experiment with tuning procedures for a slightly more… Read more »


As I understand it 617 Squadron moves to RAF Marham in the summer, but will not take part in the trials with HMS QNLZ, the aircraft performing the trials will be extra instrumented so as to understand the operating envelope of the F35-B from the carrier.

Bloke down the pub

Agree that it won’t be 617 undertaking the trials but probably 17 sqn(test and evaluation).
The UK has access to the flight data already gained by trials on the USMC flat-tops, but there will be some differences as, for example, the ski-jump is of a different profile to the shore based ramp at Patuxent.


It’s true that 617 squadron isn’t conducting the trials. However I’m sure what has been stated in the past is that QEC would be bringing them back to UK after the trials.


no, they are flying back, they are not coming back as cargo

Nigel Collins

It would have been nice to see 617 squadron re formed with a British designed aircraft for our British
Aircraft Carriers.

A mix of Typhoon and F35’s would have been a very powerful deterrent for any potential adversary to ponder over.


That said, I wish them every success in the future.


The F35 is partly British designed….


Lots of targets for our attack boats!


There are 14 or 15 production aircraft delivered so far. Do we know initial airframe numbers? Fantastic news, it’s been a very long journey


Alan Warnes of Shephard Media tweeted this morning that 617 sqn would be “flying 9 of its F-35Bs home to RAF Marham in August”. He didn’t give a source though…

Daniele Mandelli


This is old news though remember. It was announced years ago that 617 would be the first front line unit.

Agree with other posters 17 (R) Squadron is the trials unit.

Why does he say Britain has a “unique” ability to adapt to this “increasingly dangerous world” ?

Do other countries adapt?

A unique ability to continue to run its forces into the ground with coming cuts maybe while it continues to kick off with Russia?

Curious words.


Not sure this even qualifies as news, as Yiu say was announced years ago that 617 would convert to F35. I thought this was announcing IOC or something useful.

Daniele Mandelli

They will always regurgitate old news, repeatedly.

Still good “news” though!

Rob Collinson

We DO produce a significant part of every F35 and have been fully involved with the design and the testing phase. Defence is now multi-national.


Its all irrelevant really seeing as the RAF has removed all Sqn markings from their fast jet fleet.

Paul T

This is very good news,presuming a second RAF Squadron will stand up in the near future how about IX Squadron due to its ties with the ‘Dambusters ‘ ?.


That will likely be Typhoon


809 NAS next…..FLY NAVY

Paul T

Yes wont argue with that,it was my understanding that there would be 2 x RAF Squadrons plus 2 x FAA Squadrons equipped with the F35b.


actually, 207R is next as the OCU


All the F35 squadrons will contain a mix of RAF and RN pilots/crew regardless of wether they are RAF or FAR squadrons. Great initiative to cover interoperability.


But we don’t have any planes for our carrier/white elephant/missile magnet/torpedoe bait/post imperial willie wave…..and I will not hear any evidence to the contrary or arguments about it still being on trials……..poor planning that’s what it,is we should have had a fully integrated airwing ready for the VERY DAY of the naming…..national shame.

PS…. It should have been cats and traps with at least three new air frames to support…….


Let me help you.
The correct spelling for torpedoe is torpedo. Torpedoes is the plural of torpedo.
The ‘very day of naming ‘ adds no value to ‘the day of naming’. It is tautology.
We do have planes for our carrier.
Why not lie down and drink some chamomile tea.


I like my daises on the lawn thankyou very much.
The value of the tautology was in its support of the sarcastic irony (Gosh there goes another tautology) nature of the piece.
Because I’m a generous chap I’m happy to give you the e for free.

Daniele Mandelli

I saw your piece for what it was Jonathan.


Daniele I just can’t help popping off the odd occasional sarky post at the trolls. This was not my best, as I forgot to include the word wee in there.

Lee H

Evening all
617 will take the platform to IOC along with 809.
17 and 207 will do all of the trials and integration work with 617 and potentially 809 deploying on the carrier in the 2020/21 timeframe.
The RN will not put to sea with just 617, 809 will be their too. IOC will mean two sqns with appropriate training, OCU and trials sqns all in place. IOC is the all not just a shiny new RAF Sqn in yr 100 – makes a good press release though.


As IOC for the carrier (fixed air wing) is 2020 and 809 will not stand up until 2023, as I understand it from current plans, I think 617 will be it for the UK contribution to the fixed air wing at first. That’s where the USMC squadron will be needed to put 24 jets on the carrier before 2023. I don’t think there are dates for further F35B squadrons in the public domain yet, but unless they stand up quickly after 809, then USMC squadrons will probably be needed to sustain 24 jet air wings on the carrier.

Lee H

Afternoon Shades
Will be interesting to see if the RN cannot pull some “good news” out of the bag.
Concur with link, cudos and politics will be in play well before 1st cruise. An RN fleet carrier deploying without an RN FJ Sqn, you can sell the “joint” – on this I see 809 being stood up early. It makes, as always, great press – more good news for an ambitious Sec Def around election time….


I guess the next front-line fighter jet squadron to stand-up will be a Typhoon squadron. Great to see 617 Squadron back in it’s rightful place amongst the other active squadrons of the RAF.

Daniele Mandelli

9 (B) has just disbanded with Tornado and will be a Typhoon unit in due course. Maybe them?

Lee H

This is a busy year for the RN and the RAF as they finally start to rebalance their assets to deliver the missions tasked of them.
Time for the Army to start moving now, working out how they want to be structured to deliver the effect that the wish to.
JFC should also be putting the finishing touches to where it sees itself.


May be wrong when i say this, but looks like through 2019 the RAF will stay at around 7 front-line fighter squadrons ( perhaps 6 Typhoon, 1 F35 B squadron ) after the last two Tornado squadrons are retired from service. Then after that over the following four years another two or three Squadrons will come into service ( 1-2 Typhoon, 1 F35 B) So 9 or 10 in total. Hope i’m right about that anyway.. Fingers crossed !!!

Daniele Mandelli

More or less yes.

My understanding is 5 Typhoon expand to 7.

2 Tornado disband.

Plus 1 F35B.

I don’t expect the RAF to have more than 8 or 9 if we are lucky.

Future force is 5 Typhoon and 4 F35, with 2 of those being FAA units.

Plus Reserve Squadrons too, OCU, T&E and OEU units.

John Stevens

Looks like for the foreseeable future the UK and France will continue to be the leading two Western European nations when it comes to air power!

When talking about the RAF we have to add the two enhanced protector drone squadrons also. The drone squadrons will continue to be very useful for certain military scenarios.

Have a good evening Daniele

Daniele Mandelli

And you John, thank you. Weathers lovely! God bless the RAF.

Lee H

Afternoon all Slowly but surely, the MoD seems to be getting its house in order. Remember though, it’s not those that are in office or in post now, but those about 3 years ago that set all this in motion. The benefits are always reaped by others, that’s the nature of the game. Williamson has shown himself to be a very astute politician, drip feeding little bits of good news every couple of days unlike last years debacle of the “Year of the Royal Navy” shambles. Danielle – whilst the weather is great, in the big smoke and in a… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli


We got out and moved to the depths of Surrey. I don’t miss it!

Lee H

Yep – London

Sceptical Richard

All this is great but let’s not forget that for the foreseeable future F-35 will only be able to deliver AMRAAM, ASRAAM and Paveway IV. That’s it. For a while, Typhoon will be the go to workhorse (or should I say war horse) with Meteor, AMRAAM, ASRAAM, Storm Shadow, Paveway IV and Brimstone 2.

Paul T

Sceptical Richard – its not al bad,F35b will be able to carry Meteor,plus theres plenty of options with the SPEAR range of offensive weapons too.On another optimistic note I would hope that 11 Frontline Fighter Squadrons are achievable – 7 Typhoon for the RAF,and 4 F35b with 2 each for the RAF and FAA.