World’s most advanced warplanes touch down at new home in RAF Marham

The first F35 B Lightning at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt

The first F35 B Lightning at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

The world's most advanced warplane has touched down at RAF Marham - safeguarding thousands of jobs and making a vital contribution to our region's economy.

Hundreds lined the lanes as the first four F-35 Lightnings roared in from America, securing the future of the West Norfolk base for another generation.

Station Commander Group Capt Ian 'Cab' Townsend said: 'This is a really remarkable day, not just for the Royal Air Force but for the local community. 'We are so well supported by the local community, we couldn't do what we do at the station without the tremendous support of the local people.

'I think what we have here is unique, they'll be here for the next 35, 40 years. When the local community look up at the sky they will see the future.'

The first F35 B Lightning at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt

The first F35 B Lightning at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

He said the arrival of Britain's newest warplane was important for the local economy, adding: 'A lot of people work in Marham so it's really important for jobs.'


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He said 15pc of the jets are made by British companies, adding: 'It means a lot for the UK defence industries involved.

'As someone who has flown the F-35, it has been a real pleasure and a really good insight into what the future looks like.

The first F35 B Lightning at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt

The first F35 B Lightning at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

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'The pilots, whether from the land or the sea, are going to have an absolute ball.'

MORE: Plane spotters gather around Marham to see F-35 Lightning

A further five jets will join the aircraft at Marham by August, with the recently reformed 617 Squadron, the famed Dambusters of the Second World War, set to declare initial operational capability from land by the end of December.

The first F35 B Lightning at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt

The first F35 B Lightning at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

Air Commodore David Bradshaw, Lightning Force Commander, said: 'We are at the start of a very long journey.

'Nine will grow over time to 12 and when we get a suitable size 617 will effectively be a super squadron.

'By the end of 2023 we will be at our full strength.'

The first F35 B Lightning at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt

The first F35 B Lightning at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

MORE: What's it like to fly an F-35?

Flt Lt Steve Clarkson, junior engineering officer for 617 Squadron, said: 'I think it's a really exciting time for everyone and the squadron itself.

'It's a real honour especially with 617 Squadron given its history, we are going to be leading the way essentially.'

The first F35 B Lightning at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt

The first F35 B Lightning at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

The so-called stealth fighter will replace the Tornado GR4, which has been in continual service for three decades.

When officials announced the Tornado's retirement in 2010, there was uncertainty over where its replacement would be based.

There were not only more than 5,000 jobs at stake. The station brings tens of millions to our region's economy.

RAF Marham Station Commander, Group Captain Cab Townsend. Picture: Ian Burt

RAF Marham Station Commander, Group Captain Cab Townsend. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

So this newspaper, MPs and local politicians launched a campaign to make it Marham.

Almost 37,000 people from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire signed a petition launched in November 2010.

A delegation delivered it to 10 Downing Street, as MPs and council leaders put the case to save Marham to then Defence secretary Liam Fox.

The first F-35 B Lightning stealth aircraft piloted by Wing Commnder John Butcher touches down at RA

The first F-35 B Lightning stealth aircraft piloted by Wing Commnder John Butcher touches down at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

In March 2013, the then defence secretary Philip Hammond flew to Norfolk to announce the station was saved.

Five years later, the first F-35s have touched down at the home of the new Lightning Force.

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, who was at the forefront of the campaign, said: 'It is fantastic to see the F-35 arrive in Marham.

The first F-35 B Lightning stealth aircraft piloted by Wing Commnder John Butcher touches down at RA

The first F-35 B Lightning stealth aircraft piloted by Wing Commnder John Butcher touches down at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

'I believe the campaigning by everyone from the EDP and local residents to businesses and politicians helped to secure the long term future of the base and as a result, RAF Marham will be home to the most sophisticated fighter jet in the world.

'We should all be very proud – the jobs, skills and value to the local economy, in excess of £100 million, is tremendous and I am absolutely delighted that the RAF are in South West Norfolk.'

West Norfolk mayor and former council leader Nick Daubney was one of the key figures of the Make it Marham campaign.

The first F-35 B Lightning stealth aircraft piloted by Wing Commnder John Butcher touches down at RA

The first F-35 B Lightning stealth aircraft piloted by Wing Commnder John Butcher touches down at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

Speaking ahead of the arrival of the supersonic aircraft, he said: 'The campaign was about making sure Marham survived and since then it has become Europe's major station.

'The role it's going to play in military defence will be a major one, it has become an advanced military centre.

'With all the jobs and technology that goes with it, Marham is an absolutely vital station. The development is good for the region, for jobs and for trainees in the future.'

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