The legendary 617 Squadron, immortalised by the Dambuster’s raid of 1943, flew into RAF Marham yesterday with Britain’s first fifth-generation fighter aircraft.
The four state-of-the-art F-35B Lightning multi-role stealth fighters landed at RAF Marham, Norfolk, on the evening of 6 June 2018 after a lengthy transatlantic journey accompanyed by three Voyager tankers from the Voyager Force and an A400M Atlas from 70 Squadron.
The 4,047 mile flight from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, in South Carolina, into the Norfolk base took more than eight hours and necessitated multiple refuelling visits, sometimes known as ‘contacts’, with the Voyager tankers.
The arrival of the Lightning into the recently updated facilities at Marham, the result of £550m investment in the base, was two months ahead of schedule. The F-35B Lightning will be operated both from land bases, and, being short take-off and vertical landing capable, from the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. British industry has provided 15% (by value) of each aircraft as Britain works with the USA to produce around 3,000 of the highly-capable aircraft, and has secured thousands of jobs.
617 Squadron recently reformed at a ceremony in the USA and is the first RAF squadron to operate the advanced jets. Pilots have been training on their aircraft in the United States and will continue to do so, one of the most necessary exercises they complete is air-to-air refuelling from the Voyager tanker, not only a useful operational skill, but one that allows the F-35 to be flown across the Atlantic and into the UK. 617 Squadron pilots reached a milestone in April 2018 by completing the first refuelling sorties with Voyager.