Lightning is on its way to Norfolk

F-35 Lightnings have taken off and are on their way to Marham. Picture: Ian Burt

F-35 Lightnings have taken off and are on their way to Marham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

It looks like Britain's newest warplane will be touching down today.

Cutting-edge F-35 Lightning stealth fighter jets have left the US and weather permitting should touch down on UK soil later on Wednesday, it is understood.

The UK's supersonic aircraft have been stationed in America since their manufacture, being tested and used for training by Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots.

Four of the jets, based at US Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, are currently crossing the Atlantic - a journey expected to take between eight and nine hours - to become permanently UK-based.

One of the five jets which launched on Wednesday returned to Beaufort after the four destined for the UK had successfully taken on fuel from the RAF tanker escorting the aircraft - a routine decision.

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Another five jets will join the aircraft at RAF Marham by the end of July and beginning of August, with the recently reformed 617 squadron the Dambusters set to declare initial operational capability from land by the end of December.

It is understood the jets will land any time after 7pm and will do so on the runway at RAF Marham, instead of using their vertical landing capability.

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The arrival of the multimillion-pound aircraft had been expected to take place on Tuesday, but owing to what the Ministry of Defence cited as adverse weather conditions over the Atlantic and due to fears over safety, this was postponed.

An RAF spokesman said peacetime rules flight safety is always put first, and with sea states and diversion airfields unsuitable the 'routine decision' was taken to postpone.

The officer commander 617 squadron, Wing Commander John Butcher has previously told the Press Association that the current plan is for him to land first, as he and three other pilots flying the stealth fighter warplanes cross the Atlantic Ocean in a 3,000 mile journey.

Asked what that moment will be like for him, the 37-year-old said 'absolutely fantastic' and one that he was very much looking forward to.

Wg Cdr Butcher said the entire squadron was excited at the prospect of the arriving jets, with 'meticulous planning' involved before their departure.

Hoping for 'clear skies and fair winds' for the flight, he said they will be in the air for more than eight hours with 12 to 15 refuelling contacts per jet expected during the crossing.

Britain currently has 15 F-35Bs - the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the jets - based in the US, and has pledged to purchase 138 in total from American aviation giant Lockheed Martin.

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