Two F-35 firsts

On June 28, the Royal Air Force flew its F-35B Lightning from RAF Marham for the first time. The 617 Squadron aircraft, ZM148, launched from the Norfolk base at around 1045hrs using the call sign ‘Marham 99’. After general handling over Norfolk for a few minutes that included a pass at the Royal Norfolk Show, it flew to RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire, where it performed a Precision Approach Radar approach to the runway and flew a circuit and a low approach before returning to RAF Marham for a ‘slow land’ – the so-called Mode 4 landing.

A few days earlier, it was revealed that the United States Marine Corps F-35B BuNo 168057/VM01 of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501) ‘Warlords’ had been struck from the Corps’ inventory following a mishap on October 27, 2016. The jet, c/n BF-06, had made its first flight from Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth plant on October 25, 2011, and was delivered to Eglin AFB, Florida for the Marines’ training squadron on January 11, 2012. It is the first F-35B to be withdrawn from service following an incident. The aircraft was damaged following an in-flight fire in its internal weapons bay on October 27, 2016, following which it made a safe landing at its MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, base.

Damage to the aircraft was assessed by the Naval Safety Center as a Class A Mishap — the most serious mishap class — which means that there was $2 million or more in damage. Capt Christopher Harrison, a Marine spokesman, told Marine Corps Times: “With the specific F-35B involved in this discussion, the Marine Corps’ cost-benefit analysis determined the repair costs would not yield a sufficient ROI [return on investment] to justify the expenses. The decision was made to strike the F-35B; the Marines have not put out an official strike message for the F-35B, because the Corps has not decided whether the aircraft will be used as a trainer for maintenance or a museum centrepiece.”