VMFA-211 F-35Bs arrive in the UK ahead of carrier deployment

Ten US Marine Corps (USMC)-operated Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning IIs have arrived in the UK prior to joining the Royal Navy’s new flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), for its 28-week maiden deployment, which will begin in May.

All ten of the fifth-generation short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) multi-role stealth fighters are from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) ‘Wake Island Avengers’, based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona. The first cell of five aircraft arrived at RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk, at dusk on the evening of April 26. The remaining cell of five more F-35Bs landed in darkness at the British base the following evening.

VMFA-211 F-35B [Justin Ward]
With a full moon behind it, USMC F-35B Lightning II - BuNo 169621 ‘CF-01’, callsign ‘Mazda 31’ - from VMFA-211 lands in fading light at RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk, on April 27 after its transatlantic ferry flight. Justin Ward

The aircraft which arrived as part of the first cell comprised BuNos: 169621 ‘CF-01’ (callsign ‘Mazda 31’); 169607 ‘CF-06’ (‘Mazda 32’); 169416 ‘CF-03’ (‘Mazda 33’); 169608 ‘CF-07’ (‘Mazda 34’) and 169589 ‘CF-04’ (‘Mazda 35’). The second cell comprised BuNos: 169678 ‘CF-05’ (‘Mazda 21’); 169620 ‘CF-00’ (‘Mazda 22’); 169610 ‘CF-08’ (‘Mazda 23’); 169587 ‘CF-02’ (‘Mazda 24’) and 169614 ‘CF-09’ (‘Mazda 25’).

After spending a short period at RAF Lakenheath, the VMFA-211 F-35Bs were due to fly out to join the ship for its Carrier Strike Group 2021 (CSG21) deployment. During which, the ten USMC F-35Bs will be joined by eight British examples from the Royal Air Force’s No 617 Squadron ‘The Dambusters’, based at RAF Marham in Norfolk. With 18 F-35Bs aboard, CSG21 will be the largest ever at-sea deployment for the type.

The first aircraft to embark on HMS Queen Elizabeth for CSG21 landed on the carrier on April 27, while the vessel was still at port in Portsmouth, Hampshire. These aircraft comprised seven Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm-operated AgustaWestland (now Leonardo Helicopters) Merlin HM2s, which are operated by 820 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) at Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Culdrose, Cornwall. Three of these helicopters were in the Crowsnest airborne surveillance and control configuration and have recently entered service with the air arm.

The remainder of the aviation element of CSG21 will comprise three Merlin HC4s from 845 NAS at RNAS Yeovilton, Somerset, along with four AgustaWestland (now Leonardo Helicopters) Wildcat HMA2s from 815 NAS – also based at Yeovilton.