What adventures I have had since my last blog! I am bursting to tell you about visiting the F-35 Lighting aircraft in the USA and skydiving closer to home above Devon.
I am just back from visiting Scott, one of our specially selected RAF pilots on the F-35 Lightning aircraft as he trains at the Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort in South Carolina, USA, alongside US Navy, US Marines (USMC) and US Air Force colleagues, prior to returning to the UK with our aircraft later this year.
I can report that the F-35 is one cool jet! It is packed full of high-tech sensors and capabilities, and the UK is at the cutting edge of bringing this exceptionally versatile aircraft into service. Scott was a Harrier pilot in the RAF so is well used to short take-off and vertical landing stuff – but I can tell you, this new aircraft puts a massive smile on his face!
The UK personnel (a mixture of Royal Navy and RAF) are pooled with the USMC training pilots, maintenance personnel and operation support personnel in one large marine squadron (VMFAT-501). It makes good sense, permitting a higher mutual rate of training than going it alone. All the UK personnel are destined to be part of 617 Squadron (the front-line squadron and famous of course for the “Dambusters” mission in 1943) in 2018 and 207 Squadron (the operational conversion unit) in 2019. The joint US and UK team engineers fly each other’s aircraft and US and UK pilots fly and instruct each other’s students.
The two squadrons will be based at RAF Marham when not conducting training or operations from HMS Queen Elizabeth or HMS Prince of Wales at sea and the plan is for 617 Squadron to return in two lots: June 2018 with four jets; July 2018 with five jets. 207 Squadron will return in July 2019 with five jets.
I thought you might like Scott’s perspective from a pilot’s point of view “The F-35 is certainly a pilot’s aircraft – joyous, carefree, with exceptional handling qualities and simply wonderful.” There is plenty of power too, with 40,000lbs of thrust off one engine and the sensor suite is mind blowing. Hovering is a doddle – just two button presses and, extremely stable, it hovers comfortably with around 5,000lbs of fuel.