Future of British fighter jets seen over Norfolk skies as Lightning II makes first flypast

The F-35 Lightning making a first flypast over its future home at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt

The F-35 Lightning making a first flypast over its future home at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

The future of British fighter jets emerged out of a cloudy west Norfolk sky to audible gasps from the hundreds of people watching.

From summer 2018, the F-35B Lightning II jet will be based at RAF Marham. The £100m jets will spearhead the reformed Dambuster 617 Squadron from the west Norfolk airbase.

And yesterday servicemen and women downed tools to watch a UK and an US Marine Corps F-35B plus RAF Marham's centenary Tornado GR4 make their first flypasts over Norfolk skies.

Air Commodore Harv Smyth, Lightning Force Commander, said: 'This is a hugely important day for RAF Marham, which will be a key frontline fighter base in the UK for the next 40 years.

'RAF Marham contributes 15pc towards the local economy, and about £300m of infrastructure work is ongoing at the site, in preparation for the jet's arrival.

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'At its peak there will be an extra 1,200 contractors on site working on the base's overhaul. Many of them are from King's Lynn and Swaffham. The site manager is a local boy from Swaffham, and they are taking special pride in carrying out the work.

'The UK is committed to buying 138 of these F-35B jets, which are the first stealth aircraft the country has ever owned or operated, and will play a key role in our defence and overseas. The Lightning also supports 20,000 UK jobs.'

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RAF Marham station commander, Group Captain Rich Davies said: 'It's a landmark event for us. A lot of effort has gone into the Lightning in the last 10 years. It's very exciting for everyone to see a flypast of the Lightning over what will be its future home.'

The F-35Bs arrived in the UK from the US last month, and flew over RAF Marham after a flypast over the UK's new aircraft carriers in Rosyth, Scotland.

Before they are flown back to the US, the jets will take to the skies at Fairford's Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Air Show in Hampshire, in the coming weeks.

The Tornado Force at RAF Marham will continue to fight so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

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