A Legacy of Innovation
The United Kingdom’s aviation heritage reaches back to the turn of the eighteenth century when a British engineer by the name of Sir George Cayley identified the four forces of aerodynamics – weight, lift, drag and thrust. He went on to create the first model of a modern aircraft with systems for lift, propulsion and control, and to this day is often referred to as the “father of aerodynamics.”
In the more than 200 years since Cayley put his vision to paper, aviation – thanks in large part to the continued contributions of British engineers, scientists, and pilots – has evolved in ways few could have imagined, culminating in the F-35 Lightning II.
In the summer of 2016, three F-35As from the U.S. Air Force's Heritage Flight Team, two U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs and one Royal Air Force F-35B made the transatlantic journey from the U.S. to the U.K. to perform flying demonstrations at the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Air Show. See the photos from this deployment.
The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy plan to operate 138 F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft. Their training will take place at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, where British pilots and maintainers will be embedded with the U.S. Marine Corps and their fleet of F-35Bs. In February 2015, the RAF 17 Squadron, which is responsible for the operational test and evaluation of the UK’s first F-35s, was formally stood up at Edwards AFB, California.
A Revolutionary Capability
The United Kingdom has played integral role on the Joint Strike Fighter since the program’s earliest days. Even before a final aircraft concept was chosen, British engineers and test pilots were making their mark on what would become a revolutionary capability. Under the desert sky at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., British test pilot left onlookers awestruck as he took the X-35B prototype out for its first flight on June 23, 2001.
A mere four months later, after witnessing the aircraft’s impressive performance, U.S. and U.K. defense officials announced Lockheed Martin’s concept would go on to become the Joint Strike Fighter. In the years since, the F-35 has continued to evolve. It’s advanced stealth, sensor fusion, exceptional maneuverability, unmatched interoperability, and intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capabilities will provide the U.K. with a tactical airpower advantage for decades to come.
The Lightning II will be the backbone of Britain’s future carrier operations. As the first supersonic short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) fighter jet, the F-35B will provide vital 5th Generation carrier-strike capabilities to the Royal Navy’s two new carriers – the HMS Queen Elizabeth (christened July 4, 2014) and HMS Prince of Wales. These new Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers are designed specifically for integration with the F-35B aircraft, including a ski jump ramp for short takeoffs in place of the traditional catapult launch. The F-35B also has the ability to operate from land bases and remote locations, providing versatility that will revolutionize the U.K.’s expeditionary combat power.