ROYAL AIR FORCE BASE FAIRFORD, England --
Marines with Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One and a Royal Air Force pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501) successfully conducted the first ever trans-Atlantic flight of the F-35B Lightning II, June 29, 2016.
Marine Lt. Col. Richard Rusnok and Maj. Jack Cronan, along with Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Hugh Nichols piloted three F-35B’s from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina across the Atlantic Ocean, landing at Royal Air Force Base Fairford, Gloucester, England.
“Our main focus is supporting the [United Kingdom’s] introduction and service of the F-35B,” said Rusnok, a pilot with VMX-1.
The flight took more than eight hours and required the F-35B’s to be refueled by two KC-10 Extenders, an aerial refueling tanker aircraft.
“It’s always a long day, it’s always tiring but it’s a great feeling of achievement when you get the [aircraft] to a different country,” said Nichols.
The F-35B Lightning II is a fifth-generation stealth multi-role fighter aircraft, capable of conducting ground attack and air defense missions, and short-takeoff and vertical landings.
“The arrival of Lightning in the UK is an important step toward our delivery of operational capability with the UK's first ever stealth fighter aircraft,” said Air Commodore Harvey Smyth, the Royal Air Force’s F-35 force commander.
This is the first time these aircraft have landed in the United Kingdom, but the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy has been embedded with VMFAT-501 for the past few years, training with the F-35B.
“This is an important partnership between United States and the United Kingdom as we move forward,” said Rusnok. “The Marine Corps is helping introduce this aircraft to the public and really to the international community.”
The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will officially adopt the F-35B in 2018.
“Our Lightning Force is developing very quickly and we are well prepared for the arrival of our first operational squadron at [Royal Air Force Base] Marham in 2018,” said Smyth.
Over the next few weeks, the U.S. Marine Corps, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy team are in the United Kingdom to demonstrate the capabilities of this fifth generation aircraft. They will be flying at the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough International Air Show.