Five Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightnings from the RAF’s famed No 617 Squadron ‘Dambusters' have departed the UK to take part in Exercise Red Flag 20-1 at Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), Nevada.
The aircraft departed their home base at RAF Marham, Norfolk, on January 22 for the transatlantic flight, initially intending to land at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort, South Carolina – the former embryonic home of the UK Lightning Force. The aircraft would then continue to Nellis AFB in Nevada.
The deployment marks the first time that the UK Lightning Force has taken part in exercise Red Flag – a multinational combat training exercise which sees aircraft and personnel from a variety of allied nations work together to maximise interoperability, capabilities and combat readiness.
Royal Navy F-35B pilots are also participating in Red Flag 20-1, marking the first time that the Fleet Air Arm has taken part in the exercise.
Gp Capt Jim Beck, station commander of RAF Marham, said: “This is another first for the Lightning Force and will give the opportunity for our pilots to really put the F-35s to the test in a combat representative environment. This training is as near to high-end operational flying as our pilots can get in a controlled environment and will really test them and the teams that support the squadron."
While en-route to MCAS Beaufort during the first leg of their journey, the five F-35Bs diverted to Lajes Air Base, in the Azores, due to what has been speculated as a technical problem with the RAF Airbus A330 Voyager multi-role tanker/transport aircraft accompanying the deploying fighters.