The UK’s Royal Air Force and Royal Navy have welcomed home their first four F-35B advanced fighter aircraft.
With the aid of air-to-air refueling, the aircraft flew non-stop across the Atlantic from the US Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina where UK pilots have been undergoing intensive training on the aircraft in partnership with their USMC counterparts.
"This aircraft will truly transform how the UK conducts its defence operations and it is fitting that the next generation of combat air power has arrived as the RAF celebrates its centenary," said Peter Ruddock, chief executive of Lockheed Martin UK.
"As a key partner in the F-35 program from its early stages, the UK has been instrumental in shaping the design and development of the aircraft, particularly in relation to the short take-off and vertical landing capabilities."
More than 500 British companies are involved in the supply chain. Around 15 per cent by value of each of the more than 3,000 F-35 aircraft projected on the program is manufactured in the UK, and to date the program has generated about US$13 billion in contracts for British suppliers.
The aircraft have arrived two months ahead of schedule, which will allow the UK’s Lightning Force to focus on achieving initial operational capability by the end of 2018. The first flight trials with the UK’s Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers are expected later this year.
Comprehensive sustainment support for the UK’s fleet of F-35 aircraft based at RAF Marham will be provided by Lightning Team UK, which represents the blended industry team of BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce.
The UK currently has 15 F-35B aircraft in total, the remainder of which are stationed at MCAS Beaufort or Edwards Air Force Base in California, where they are involved in testing and training.
Around the world, there are now nearly 300 F-35 aircraft operating from 15 bases and the program has achieved more than 140,000 flight hours.
Australia has orderred 73 F-35As, with the first two jets due for arrival in Australia at the end of this year.