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‘Big interest’ in arrival of F-35 Lightning stealth fighter jets to UK

The supersonic warplanes could touch down at RAF Marham in Norfolk this week.

An RAF base is anticipating “a big interest” when Britain’s cutting-edge F-35 Lightning stealth fighter jets touch down on UK soil.

The UK’s supersonic aircraft could arrive at RAF Marham, Norfolk, any time from Tuesday, it is understood, though the exact date is yet to be confirmed and will depend on a number of factors including the weather.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced last month that the warplanes, manufactured in America, would arrive in the UK in June.

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A sign outside RAF Marham in Norfolk, ahead of the arrival of the new F-35B Lightning stealth fighter jets. (Joe Giddens/ PA)

RAF Marham is home to almost 10,000 people, including contractors and families of service personnel, and it is thought that many will watch the jets arrive from a special viewing area on the base or from their gardens.

Many locals and plane enthusiasts are also expected to turn out to see the aircraft touch down.

Three parking areas that will double as viewing spots have been arranged near to the airfield with the permission of local farmers, who will be collecting donations at their respective sites for charities of their choice.

Norfolk Police said no road closures are currently planned.

While the base could not put a figure on how many people might attend, a spokesman said: “We’re anticipating there will be a big interest.”

The arrival of the F-35s comes ahead of the decommissioning of RAF Marham’s Tornado GR4 fleet by April 2019.

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A Tornado GR4 comes in to land at RAF Marham, as ongoing infrastructure work continues at the base in Norfolk, ahead of the arrival of the new F-35B Lightning stealth fighter jets. (Joe Giddens/ PA)

Resurfacing work on the base’s secondary runway has finished in time for their arrival, and people living in the town said they were looking forward to seeing the F-35s.

Sarah Sheardown, 29, of Marham, speaking outside a Spar shop near the base entrance, said: “If I could see them arrive I would – I know it’s all a bit top secret.

“It’s important for Marham, especially with the Tornados going, now we’ve still got a good plane in our use.

“The Tornados have been around for a long time, they’ve a long history and it will be the end of an era.”

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The F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. Infographic by PA Graphics

Nicola Billington, 34, of Marham, said: “We’re looking to come out to see the F-35s arrive.

“I think it’s a great thing.”

She added it would be “sad” to see the Tornados go.

The F-35s have been stationed in America since their manufacture, being tested and used for training by Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots.

Four of the jets, based at US Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, are due to cross the Atlantic in the first trip, with five following by the beginning of August.

Britain currently has 15 F-35Bs – the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the jets – based in the US, and has pledged to purchase 138 in total.

The F-35s will be flown by the newly reformed 617 squadron, which was immortalised by the daring Dambusters raid during the Second World War.

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