Thursday October 23, 2014

UK announces F-35B basing

RAF Squadron leader Frankie Buchler prepares for his first command of the F-35B. (Lockheed)

The UK has announced that its F-35B fighter fleet will be based at RAF Marham, Norfolk. Marham is currently home to three Tornado GR4 squadrons.

The F-35Bs, to be jointly operated by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, both from Marham and the forthcoming Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, were originally to be based at RAF Lossiemouth. But following 2010′s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), a study by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation was tasked with rationalising the UK defence establishment.

Other changes announced on March 25 will see RAF Leuchars (near Dundee, Scotland) handed over to the British Army and the two Typhoon squadrons based there relocate north to RAF Lossiemouth (east of Inverness, Scotland) in mid 2014, and the closure of RAF Wyton and RAF Church Fenton.

Said UK Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond: “Given that RAF Lossiemouth will now host three squadrons of Typhoon and given the altered drawdown profile and Out of Service Date for Tornado (in line with the SDSR decision to concentrate our fast jet fleet on Typhoon and Lightning II ), RAF Marham will have sufficient capacity for the basing of Lightning II, which will be operated jointly by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Further work will now be carried out to determine the precise investment requirements as the base transitions to support Lightning II.”

The announcement came after a Royal Air Force squadron leader on March 19 became the first non-US student pilot at the 33rd Fighter Wing  to complete his first conversion sortie onto the F-35.

Training to be an F-35B instructor pilot, Sqn Ldr Frankie Buchler flew with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron-501, accompanied by an instructor pilot flying as wingman.

After the flight, Buchler said: “There were no surprises, the jet was fun to fly and the flight went as expected. The ground school training package at the Academic Training Center with the flight simulators prepared me for smooth flying.

“The potential I see in this aircraft is all the sensors for information sharing. The F-35 has enormous potential and will be a great compliment to our Typhoons,” he said.

It takes 10 flight hours – or around seven sorties – for a student F-35 pilot transitioning from other aircraft to become a qualified F-35 pilot.

The UK expects to receive front line F-35Bs from 2015 onwards with an initial operating capability from land in 2018, followed by first of class flights from HMS Queen Elizabeth later that year.