The squadron will now reform as Operational Conversion Unit for F-35B pilots in the U.K.
On July 16, 2019 the Royal Air Force 207 Squadron returned to RAF Marham in the UK. The squadron was embedded since 2013 with VMFAT-501 at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, where Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots trained alongside U.S. Marine Corps’ pilots. The squadron will now reform officially as Operational Conversion Unit on August 1, 2019 and will train new F-35B pilots on U.K. soil.
As said by the Squadron Commander, Wg Cdr Scott Williams, the six F-35s departed MCAS Beaufort at 6:00 am local time and were met by two Voyager tankers for the trans-Atlantic flight. Each aircraft refueled 8 times to ensure high fuel levels in the event of an emergency, giving them as much range as possible to return feet-dry and land. The F-35 arrived at their new homebase at around 08:00 pm after an uneventful flight and no problems were reported.
ScrambleMagazine reported that the flight used the callsigns Ascot from 9711 to 9716 and the F-35 involved were serials ZM137, ZM139, ZM149, ZM150, ZM151, ZM152.
The six jets that arrived at Marham this evening include ZM139 with the lightning bolt markings of @OC617Sqn – as mentioned in the article posted previously, the Lightning Force will operate a pooled fleet aircraft shared between Nos 207 and 617 Squadrons. (Photo @jamie_aviacom) pic.twitter.com/FEubwqEKnt
— Thomas Newdick (@CombatAir) July 16, 2019
Interestingly, at least two F-35s, ZM139 and ZM151, were spotted with a lightning bolt tail marking and Modex numbers “139” and “151” that, according to a Twitter post by Air Vice-Marshal Harv Smyth, will be applied across the entire British F-35 fleet.
I love our Lightning Force branding. ⚡️⚡️
Soon to be rolled out across all our @thef35 aircraft. @RoyalAirForce @RoyalNavy pic.twitter.com/EE1cmUMDAr
— Air Vice-Marshal Harv Smyth (@AOC_1_Group) July 16, 2019
The 207 Squadron will share RAF Marham with the “Dambusters” of 617 Squadron and they should be joined by the Fleet Air Arm’s 809 Naval Air Squadron by 2023. Aircraft, personnel, equipment and support infrastructure, dubbed “Lightning Force”, will be jointly manned by Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel. To reflect that, 207 Squadron was purposefully chosen because it has both Air Force and Naval lineage. The Squadron, in fact, was first established as 7 Naval Squadron belonging to RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service) in 1916 and when the Royal Air Force was born in 1918, absorbing RNAS squadrons, it was renamed 207 Squadron.
A whole lot of Next Gen! @RAF_Marham pic.twitter.com/rBT7sJAY1W
— Group Captain Cab Townsend (@StnCdrRAFMarham) July 16, 2019
The first F-35 pilot course at RAF Marham is set to begin in early September 2019. Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, Chief of the Air Staff, stated: “Being able to train our pilots in the UK is another great leap in our sovereign capability and will ensure the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy can train our pilots to fight and win with these extraordinary jets, which will sit at the heart of our country’s globally deployable forces.”
Noteworthy the 207 Squadron, or 207(OC) Squadron according to the official designation, will be first unit dedicated to F-35 pilot training outside of the United States.