Aviation history will be made in the UK this summer when, in a major airshow first, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, the Joint Strike Fighter, makes its much-anticipated European debut.
This hugely important multi-role combat aircraft, which has never before been seen outside of the US, will display at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford between July 11 and 13.
Three examples of the F-35B, the short take-off/vertical landing version of the Lightning II optimised for operation from austere bases and smaller ships, will be based at RAF Fairford: two from the US Marine Corps and one destined for the UK. The flying displays on all three days of the airshow, will see participation by one aircraft.
The aircraft’s appearance at Fairford will allow a whole new audience to see at close quarters this highly advanced multi-role platform, which, in F-35B form, will demonstrate the ‘hover’ capability required for operation from, for example, Britain’s forthcoming new aircraft carriers.
Its appearance at RAF Fairford in July will be the latest in a long list of legendary military aircraft that have made their UK debut at the Air Tattoo. These have included the F-14 Tomcat in 1976, the MiG-23 in 1991, the Typhoon in 1995 and the V-22 Osprey in 2006.
Air tattoo chief executive designate Andy Armstrong said: “Not only will people witness aviation history being made at the Air Tattoo this summer but they will also see a breath-taking demonstration of the future of combat aviation.
"Those people who, like me, enjoyed seeing the legendary Harrier display its hovering capabilities in the past will relish the opportunity to see its state-of-the-art successor.”
In the words of Lockheed Martin, the F-35B combines for the first time ‘the most lethal fighter characteristics: supersonic speed, radar-evading stealth, extreme agility and short take-off/vertical landing capability’.
The stealthy Lightning II is a vital aircraft for the air arms of the nine countries who have, thus far, signed up to become part of the programme: apart from the US and UK, also involved are Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey.
The type is rapidly entering service with the US Air Force in CTOL (conventional take-off and landing) F-35A guise, and with the US Marine Corps in F-35B form. The UK plans to procure 138 F-35Bs for joint operation by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and has begun pilot and maintainer training on the aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The F-35 will, in future, become a common sight in our skies – but it will perform its first international display at this summer’s Air Tattoo. The air tattoo is staged annually in support of the RAF Charitable Trust. Tickets for the event are only available in advance. Specially-priced Earlybird tickets are available until May 31 from airtattoo.com or by calling 0800 107 1940. All accompanied under-16s go free. Free parking.