26 Jan 2018

UK fighter pilots fly F-35 Lightning straight from training for first time

A pair of fighter pilots have become the first in their services to fly the F-35 Lightning straight from training.

Flight Lieutenant Liam and Lieutenant Chris became the first Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots respectively to proceed straight from flying training in a Hawk to fly the multi-role combat aircraft.

The F-35 Lightning is an advanced, next generation aircraft procured to operate alongside the RAF’s Typhoon. It will be jointly manned by the RAF and RN and will form an integral part of Carrier Strike operating from the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.

 The training of UK Lightning pilots is currently undertaken as part of a much larger UK Detachment at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina. This ‘pooling’ arrangement with the United States Marine Corps (USMC) facilitates the high training rate necessary for build the essential numbers of personnel qualified and experienced to form the first operational UK squadron, No. 617 Squadron (the ‘Dambusters’) in 2018.

To date, the cadre of UK Lightning pilots, have all transitioned from other aircraft and both new Lightning pilots were accompanied on their first flights by an instructor in a second aircraft.

With no two-seat variant of the F-35 the first flight for any pilot in a Lightning is always solo.

Speaking after his flight, Flt Lt Liam said: “I was astonished at the jet’s performance and at how well the simulator had prepared me for taking the Lightning flying.

 “Much of the first flight is about exploring the aircraft’s performance envelope and breaking the sound barrier was a particular highlight. It is easy to see why every pilot here loves flying the aircraft and I am eager to press on and get stuck in to operating the Lightning and exploring it’s potential.”

 Fellow pilot Lt Chris added: After over seven years of training in the Royal Navy, to finally get into the real aircraft and take it airborne was one of the proudest and most exciting experiences of my life so far.

 “The computer systems, helmet display, and sensors are at the cutting edge of what is currently possible and I’m extremely excited to work on exploiting this potential as well as being part of its integration with HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales over the coming years.”

image © Crown Copyright 2018

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