Britain’s cutting-edge F-35 Lightning stealth fighter jets are expected to touch down in the UK early next month, the Defence Secretary has announced.
Gavin Williamson confirmed the imminent arrival of the multimillion-pound supersonic warplanes during an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the daring Dambusters raid.
The Lancasters flown by 617 Squadron used Barnes Wallis’s revolutionary bouncing bombs to target and disable Hitler’s industrial heartland during their night-time mission on May 16/17 1943.
More than seven decades later, the squadron was recently stood back up for the supersonic jets, which will be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk.
Announcing the arrival of the jets on Wednesday while at RAF Coningsby, the Defence Secretary said: “Seventy-five years ago the Dambusters pushed the boundaries of what was possible.
“That same spirit of innovation continues today as the Dambusters of today prepare to fly the world’s most advanced fighter jet in the skies over the UK.
“Just like those Lancasters which played such a vital role in the Second World War, the F-35B Lightning is based on great British design, operating with futuristic technology to adapt to an increasingly dangerous world.”
Four of the aircraft are due to fly across the Atlantic Ocean from the United States next month and will do so with between 12 and 15 air-to-air refuelling serials per jet.
They are due to arrive two months ahead of schedule, which the Ministry of Defence said allows for extra training time for 617 Squadron before declaring initial operational service from land later this year.
The commanding officer of 617 Squadron, Wing Commander John Butcher, said: “I have the great privilege of leading a jointly manned squadron made up of the best engineers, mission support personnel and pilots from the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
“The original Dambuster squadron did not know what their mission was going to be until the last moment, yet they had to make sure they were ready, and that is as true for us today.
“The spectrum of missions we can undertake in the F-35 will be huge and we have to make sure we are ready to do whatever is asked of us.”
Lightning Force Commander Air Commodore David Bradshaw said the Dambusters were “pure inspiration” in the darkest periods of the Second World War, when a “small band of men and women came together to create a novel technological solution to a problem that was vexing Great Britain”.
“The spirit that they showed then is replicated in the spirits of today. From Lancasters to Lightning, that extraordinary spirit really does live on,” he said.
When asked what he thought the Dambusters 617 aircrew would have made of the jets, he said they would look at it with a degree of awe, as does he.
“I think what it manages to achieve is absolutely incredible. Within a fighter-sized aircraft you have got all the fuel, all the weapons that you need to penetrate deep into enemy territory at supersonic speeds.
“And then, at the end of that, to come back and land vertically on land or indeed on one of the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers – that is just extraordinary.
“In 1943 the Lancaster, with its bouncing bomb, was again a marvel of technological innovation. They would certainly see parallels, but I think there would be a degree of awe there as well.”
The UK is embarked on a £9.1 billion programme to buy 48 by 2025 of the F-35, the world’s most advanced fighter jet, from American aviation giant Lockheed Martin, but has pledged to purchase 138.
Britain currently has 15 of the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the jets in the United States being tested and used for training.
Later this year F-35 flight trials will take place off the £3.1 billion behemoth aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.