DN - Defence Notes

Air Power 2017: UK F-35 training takes off

11th July 2017 - 10:07 GMT | by Alice Budge in London

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Preparations for the F-35B Lightning II's arrival to the UK continue apace with the announcement on 5 July that 207 Squadron will be training future Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots at RAF Marham.

During a visit to RAF Marham air chief marshal Sir Stephen Hiller said 'preparations for the arrival of the first UK Lightnings next year are progressing well'.

He also commented that with the £250 million investment in infrastructure at RAF Marham, facilities will match the ‘world-class aircraft’ in time for its arrival next year and that ‘as the home of the UK Lightning Force the station will be at the heart of UK airpower for decades to come.’

The infrastructure investment will focus on building landing pads to provide for the F-35’s vertical landing capability.

It will also see runways and taxiways renewed as well as new technical and training facilities and hangars.

The first F-35Bs are expected to arrive at the station in summer 2018 when the RAF and RN pilots currently undergoing training in the US will return as 617 Squadron, the Dambusters.

The F-35 will operate off the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

Hiller added: 'HMS Queen Elizabeth is the first carrier in the world designed from the outset to operate a fifth generation combat aircraft. Crucially, a second ship –HMS Prince of Wales – is on its way, which will give the UK a continuous carrier strike capability.’

A vital part of the F-35 pilots’ training will involve hours practicing take-off and landing on the deck of the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth using BAE Systems’ £2 million simulator facility.

According to Peter Wilson, BAE Systems’ test pilot for the short take-off and vertical landing variant on the F-35 programme, the simulator trials will provide engineers with the data to begin flight trials on HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018.

Meanwhile, four life-sized replicas of the F-35 jet have been acquired by the Royal Navy School of Flight Deck Operations.

This has enabled aircraft handlers to practice moving and marshalling the jets on a mock-up aircraft carrier flight deck.

Chief Petty Officer Paul Ransom, training manager for all embarked training, explained that ‘to have these life-size replicas of the real thing is so important, invaluable actually. There is no margin for error when operating with live aircraft on a real flight deck at sea'.

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