Next month will see the first anniversary of the UK’s F-35B Lightning aircraft arriving on home soil at RAF Marham.
Since 6th June 2018, the UK has achieved Initial Operating Capability (IOC) with the aircraft, carried out successful First of Class Flying Trials on HMS Queen Elizabeth and announced the first overseas deployment of the stealth jets this summer.
These milestones would not have been possible without the efforts of DE&S personnel at Abbey Wood and RAF Marham, which is the F-35 fleet’s main operating base. Here, DE&S have delivered three key facilities – the Lightning Operations Centre (LOC), Maintenance and Finishing Facility (M&F), and the Integrated Training Centre (ITC).
To date, the M&F has not only embodied a number of modifications to the UK Lightning fleet but also undertaken maintenance and repairs to aircraft including: the first lift fan change on a F-35 in the UK, engine removal and refit, and the first RADOME (radar protector) change. Purpose build wrap-around aircraft maintenance staging, procured by DE&S, has been installed inside the building and is now giving maintainers safe and efficient access to all areas of the aircraft. The M&F has been instrumental in both maintaining the UK Lightning fleet and also ensuring aircraft are available for 617 Squadron.
The ITC provides a real-life training environment replicating the challenges that both RAF and Royal Navy pilots and maintainers will face in supporting and operating the F-35 Lightning over the coming years. So far, pilots have flown over 600 ‘synthetic’ sorties in the four Full Mission Simulators. In addition, maintainers and engineers have been honing their technical skills on innovative mock-ups which replicate the undercarriage, wings and nose of the fighter jet along with the cockpit, engine and lift fan, which gives the UK’s F-35B variant its short take-off and vertical landing capability.
Mark Thornton, Lighting Delivery Team Leader, DE&S, said: “The M&F and ITC have quickly become essential facilities for the UK F-35 Lightning’s operators – the RAF and Royal Navy. I am proud that DE&S has not only delivered these state-of-the-art facilities, but is now sustaining and developing them to meet the changing requirements of both operators and aircraft.”