“The Dambusters” are on the move with their F-35B stealth aircraft.
Earlier today, British F-35B aircraft took off from their homebase at RAF Marham, UK, for their first overseas deployment. The aircraft will spend six weeks at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, as part of an Exercise dubbed “Ex. Lightning Dawn”.
This training exercise in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, “will allow personnel from both services to gain vital experience in maintaining and flying the aircraft in an unfamiliar environment,” says an official UK MoD press release. “The exercise will also examine all aspects of moving this aircraft to a new location, including logistics, maintenance, and sustainment of all the equipment and crew that comes with this impressive aircraft, whilst also enhancing its preparedness for its first operational carrier deployment.
The deployment can be somehow “watched” online via ADS-B/Mode-S: actually, you can track the Voyagers tankers that are dragging the F-35s to Cyprus.
1405z Royal Air Force Voyagers #RRR9401 ZZ336 and #RRR9402 ZZ332 out of Brize Norton, dragged some RAF Assets to RAF Akrotiri Cyprus. Assets including some RAF F-35B of RAF Marham in order to join RAF Exercise Lightning Down. pic.twitter.com/XLRQyi4Bpl
— Italian_Radar (@Italian_Spotter) May 21, 2019
The UK currently owns 17 F-35B Lightning (note that the British designation is simply “Lightning” and not the official “Lightning II”) aircraft, the first out of an overall plan to procure 138 aircraft over the life of the programme. The aircraft are owned and operated by the RAF, but the Lightning Force is jointly manned by both the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy.
The F-35B is the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the radar-evading aircraft that the UK will operate in the “carrier strike” role from the Britain’s new Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) aircraft carriers. Britain’s newest aircraft carrier (able to accommodate up to 24 F-35Bs out of the planned 138 F-35 Lightning jets) and the F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF) have conducted a variety of flight maneuvers and deck operations to develop the F-35B operating envelope for QEC carriers last year.