The new Officer Commanding of 617 Squadron, Wing Commander John Butcher, has taken his first flight in an F-35B.

617 Sqn ‘Dambusters’ is designated as the first front line UK F-35B Lightning squadron and will return to RAF Marham next summer.

Speaking after his flight Wg Cdr Butcher said:

“This was a memorable day and climbing into the cockpit for the first time felt really familiar as the simulator I have been training in is so realistic. This flight certainly marks the beginning of the end for 617 Squadron’s time at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort as we already look forward to our arrival back at RAF Marham in the summer of next year.

It was a real thrill to finally fly this aircraft and it certainly exceeded my expectations. The capabilities and potential of this aircraft are immense and this is a very exciting time to be a fast jet pilot.”

The first flight followed weeks of ground school training and during his flight Wg Cdr Butcher flew over the Atlantic Ocean where he was able to explore how manoeuvrable the aircraft is before conducting some approaches at Beaufort say the Ministry of Defence.

Both Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots, maintainers and ground crew are currently training on the F-35 in South Carolina ahead of the return of 617 Squadron to RAF Marham in Norfolk next summer. Both US Marine Corps and British aircraft are operated on a pooled basis to train pilots from both countries.


  1. F35B should be FAA only.

    F35A can go to RAF once F35B is purchased in sufficent numbers to allow surge on the QEC’s, not before.

        • Yes Paul, but not before more than 48 B are procured otherwise leaves the carriers short.

          I just like to see the RN own it’s aviation assets like the aeronavale and USN do.

          • Agreed,the Carriers must be the priority with the allocation of F35B’s,in an ideal world they should be FAA only but the powers that be think joint RAF/FAA operations are the way to go.Ive said before that the Mod could hedge its bets and order the F35C instead of the ‘A’,that way if the Carriers were eventually fitted with Cat & Traps we would already have the correct aircraft in the fleet,but think we would all agree that that’s pretty much not going to happen.

  2. The performance and costs differences between the F35 A and B are not relevant here because we have just over £6Bn on potentially the most powerful carriers in the world behind those of the USA. Therefore with that investment made the planes now should all be F35B and FAA assets. This would allow the Government to order a smaller number than the 138 proposed to reflect budget pressures but still allow the carriers to have strong air groups. If in the event we need some of these aircraft to be land based then so be it but the carriers should come first and hence they should be FAA owned and operated. The RAF has done it seems a good job to evolve the Typhoon into a more multirole aircraft but the future beyond that is probably a transition to an all drone force. The carriers will follow suit during their service lives. A reduced buy of both F35 A and Bs would be madness and compromise the investment we have made, however, bearing in mind our politicians scrapped an aircraft we already had that could have served for another 10 to 15 years on the new carriers and kept the Tornado instead I don’t hold out much hope. It also showed that inter service rivalries were unfortunately alive and well in 2010.

    • Yes think your right regards the Carriers,as for the RAF maybe drones are the future but their not quite mature enough yet,the Tornado’s are due to retire soon,theres no reason why they couldn’t be replaced by more Typhoons in the meantime but for the price difference vs the F35’S of whatever version and the advantages of stealth etc I think the current plans are hard to argue with IMHO.

      • Hi sjb1968, I’m a big fan of the QE class carriers, and the flexibility they should bring to UK combat operations. They are, however, just a means to an end – delivering
        air-power in the pursuit of UK interests.
        Since the Falklands War, carrier strike has not been an essential factor in the deployment of UK air-power; not in the two Gulf wars, nor in Afghanistan, nor the Balkans wars, nor the war against ISIS, not even the air-strikes over Libya in 2011. Through agile diplomacy, overseas bases, and military alliances, the UK been able to successfully conduct offensive air operations across Europe and the Middle-East.
        In general terms, in comparison with carrier-strike, a greater number of aircraft sorties can be generated from airbases; and in some instances (like the F-35B), carrier aircraft can lack performance in comparison with their land-based cousins.
        On that basis, it makes no sense to plough so much scarce national treasure into the F-35B. Historical evidence would suggest that Typhoon/F-35A is a much better fit for the kind of air-operations we will be conducting. Perhaps 48 STOVL airframes is not enough (as Lee H persuasively posted a few weeks ago), although I certainly think 135 is too many!
        Carrier strike will be a useful enhancement to UK operations, but it will not be the whole story – and it may be reckless to deploy so many air-assets in such vulnerable platforms, so woefully short of escorts – particularly against submarine attack.
        In our pride and enthusiasm for the OE class, let’s not neglect other areas of combat-jet operations.
        Good to debate with you.

  3. Alan,
    I hope you don’t mind me replying with a slightly different opinion. The RN had a carrier on rotation for several years in the Adriatic during the Balkans conflict because its reaction time was quicker than any land based aircraft and Libya would have been far more effectively covered by carrier aircraft than the farce of basing aircraft in Italy. Why was a cheap LPH with Apaches involved if air cover could be effectively provided by land based aircraft?
    Why didn’t you mention the withdrawal from Hong Kong or the protection of Sierra Leone was it too far from any base perhaps?
    Arguments about the two gulf wars are different because if we had had a large carrier with adequate punch we would have deployed it. The USN had six carriers in the first gulf war plus LHA’s with Harriers and out performed the USAF.
    As for the vulnerability of these ships you have to find them first because they move and I can input the GPS coordinates of any airfield worldwide at home so I think any worthy adversary could hit one of those.
    I’m my view a buy of around 80-90 F35B’s for the FAA would suffice and the RAF should invest in the next generation of drones and some more MPAs. We don’t need deep strike as we have cruise missiles in Attack submarines and some decent stand off missiles fitted to the Typhoon. Personally I would like to see a small increase in the forces but in these difficult times that is just wishful thinking so we need to make sure our investment in the QEC class is not wasted. My worry is the current head of the armed forces is RAF and they have track record of knee capping the FAA at every opportunity.


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