Nine U.S. Marine Corps And Eight RAF F-35Bs Have Embarked On HMS Queen Elizabeth

USMC F-35B embark HMS Queen Elizabeth
One of the USMC F-35Bs launches from RAF Lakenheath to embark on HMS QE. (All images: Stewart Jack).

17 F-35Bs have already landed aboard British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth ahead of CSG21 deployment.

As already reported 10 USMC F-35Bs aircraft, belonging to the VMFA-211 Wake Island Avengers, based at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, have arrived at RAF Lakenheath, UK between Apr. 26 and 28, 2021 to embark on HMS Queen Elizabeth, for UK’s new aircraft carrier’s first operational cruise, named CSG21.

On her maiden operational deployment, HMS QE will travel to the Indo-Pacific region leading the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands war. However, before reaching the troubled waters of the South China Sea, the F-35Bs will be quite busy: they will take part in Exercise Joint Warrior/Strike Warrior off Scotland; then in drills with NATO partners in the northern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea; and will also support counter-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria.

The deployment represents “the first time UK fighter aircraft are embarked on an operational aircraft carrier deployment since 2010, and will be the largest number of F-35Bs ever to sail the seas,” said the UK MOD in a news release. “The renowned 617 Squadron RAF (‘The Dambusters’) will operate the jets to provide tangible and impactful support to counter-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria.”

Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey MP said: “The F-35B Lightning jets will pack a potent punch against Daesh and help prevent them from regaining a foothold in Iraq. This is a prime example of the UK Armed Forces stepping forward with our allies to confront persistent threats around the world. It is Global Britain in action.”

The British F-35Bs have already grown experience in the air war against Daesh: 617 Sqn’s Lightning flew their first operational sorties over Syria launching from RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, on Sunday Jun. 16, 2019, supporting of Operation Shader, the UK contribution to the Global Coalition’s counter Daesh mission in Iraq and Syria.

It’s still not clear whether the USMC F-35Bs will support OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve) too, although it seems quite likely. VMFA-211 is a Marine squadron with significant combat experience with the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the F-35: on September 27, 2018, U.S. Marine Corps F-35B with VMFA-211, launched the first-ever combat mission by a U.S. military F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. The long-range strikes that struck insurgent targets in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, took off from the U.S. Navy Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) on station in the Persian Gulf. The aircraft flew that first raid with the gun pod and GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) in the internal weapon bays but bomb markings applied to some of the aircraft’s front landing gear door showed two different types of PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions): the GBU-12 500-lb LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and GBU-32 JDAMs.

F-35Bs start embarking on HMS QE

In anticipation of the upcoming deployment, the U.S. Marine Corps and RAF F-35Bs have started, on Sunday May 2, 2021, to launch respectively from RAF Lakenheath and RAF Marham to embark on HMS Queen Elizabeth.

USMC F-35B embark HMS Queen Elizabeth
VMFA-211 F-35B takes off for HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The Marines F-35Bs took off in three sections, flying as “WAKE 11-12”, “WAKE 21-22” and “WAKE 31-32”. 617 Squadron also launched four aircraft from RAF Marham as “GHOST 11-12” (ZM150/016 and ZM154/020) and “GHOST 21-22” (ZM152 and ZM151).

The Aviationist‘s contributor Stewart Jack was at RAF Lakenheath and took the photographs of the USMC F-35Bs taking off from there on Sunday.

USMC F-35B embark HMS Queen Elizabeth
Close up on the cockpit of one of the USMC F-35Bs.

In the morning on Monday May 3, another four 617 Squadron jets went to the carrier: F-35B Lightning “Ghost 31-32” (ZM147/013 and ZM153/019) and “Ghost 41-42” (ZM155/021 and ZM148/014). Only three USMC Lightnings launched for the carrier as one went tech. Here are the serials: “WAKE41-42” (169608/CF07 and 169610/CF08) and “WAKE51” (169614/CF09). “WAKE52” (169416/CF03) aborted take-off at 10.20LT returned to parking.

The U.S. Navy has also shared some interesting images of the USMC F-35Bs aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.