On Wednesday 29th June 2016, three Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II from MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, with two Douglas KC-10A Extender tankers (Clean51 - 87-0119 & Clean52 - 87-0117) crossed the Atlantic on their way to RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire in the UK.
The three F-35B Lightning II aircraft arrived at RAF Fairford just after 8pm local time on Wednesday 29th June. The aircraft include two United States Marine Corps F-35Bs (168726/18 & 168727/19) and a Royal Air Force F-35B (ZM137) flown by Sqn. Ldr. Hugh Nichols.
Three USAF F-35A Lightning II aircraft (12-5042, 12-5052 & 12-5058) from Langley AFB, Virginia, along with a Douglas KC-10A Extender (Clean 81 - 83-0077), landed at RAF Fairford just after 8.30pm local time on Thursday 30th June 2016. The aircraft were refuelled seven times as they crossed the Atlantic from the USA.
Two F-35B Lightning II aircraft, along with two Hawk Jets from RNAS Culdrose based 736 Naval Air Squadron, performed a flypast over the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carriers at Rosyth in Scotland at 2pm on Friday 1st July 2016, despite the heavy rain and cloud. Two F-35Bs and a Tornado GR4 also flew over RAF Marham which is where the UK's F-35B aircraft will be based in 2018.
• Royal Navy News Article & photographs of the F-35B flypast over the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers.
• Royal Navy News Article & photographs of the F-35B & RN Hawks flypast over the aircraft carriers.
There are three variants including:
• Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II:
A conventional take off and landing variant.
• Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II:
A short-take off and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant.
• Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II:
A carrier-based CATOBAR variant.
The F-35A is intended for the United States Air Force (USAF) and other air forces around the world. The F-35B will be operated by the United Stated Marines Corps (USMC) and the Royal Air Force / Royal Navy. The UK's new Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers will operate the F-35B variant. The United States Navy (USN) as well as the United Stated Marines Corps will operate the F-35C on the USN aircraft carriers.
The UK are expected to buy a total of 138 F-35B aircraft which will be based at Royal Air Force Marham, in Norfolk, and the UK F-35B will become operational in 2018. These aircraft will be shared by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. The UK currently have four F-35B aircraft which are being used for testing in the USA. A further fourteen have been ordered, and another twenty four aircraft are being fast-tracked by 2023.
It was announced on the 8th January 2015 that RAF Lakenheath has been selected as the first United States Air Force base in Europe to station two F-35A squadrons, totalling 48 jets, to add to the 48th Fighter Wing's already existing F-15C and F-15E Strike Eagle jets.
The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) (08-10 July 2016) displayed the USMC & RAF F-35B Lightning II aircraft and demonstrated the Harrier-like 'hover' capability required for operation from austere land bases and aircraft carriers.
There was also special joint flypasts involving the Red Arrows, F-35B & 2 RAF Typhoons, a US Marine Corps Lockheed KC-130J Hercules aerial tanker and F-35B performing an air-to-air refuelling demo, and a Heritage Flight formation flypast consisting of a USAF F-35A Lightning II, F-22A Raptor, and P-51D Mustang 'Miss Helen'.
The USMC & RAF F-35B Lightning II aircraft also took part in the display at the Farnborough International Air Show (11-17 July 2016).
The three USAF F-35A Lightning II aircraft departed RAF Fairford on Wednesday 13th July 2016, with tanker support, on their way home to Langley AFB, Virginia.
Three F-35B Lightning II departed from RAF Fairford on Friday 22nd July 2016 at 11.45am (UK time) on their way back home to MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina. Tanker support was provided by KC-10A Extender tanker aircraft (Clean 51/87-0119, & Clean 52/83-0077).