The Dambusters in 2016: From Lancaster to Lightning

16 May 2016

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It was a Squadron born in battle, created to carry out one of the most daring raids of World War II.

Now the ‘Dambusters’ will once again fly at the forefront of aviation technology as they prepare to become Britain’s first F-35B Lightning Squadron.

Wing Commander Guy Gibson, while Commanding Officer of No 617 Squadron RAF, wearing flying kit.

On the night of 16 May 1943 Wing Commander Guy Gibson led his men on the famous dams raid, using brand new techniques and equipment whilst flying specially modified Lancaster bomber aircraft. Now his 21st Century successor looks forward to continuing that legacy of innovation as his team trains to fly the state of the art 5th generation fighter jet.

Wing Cdr Jon Butcher, Officer Commanding of 617 Squadron ‘The Dambusters’ standing in front of an F-35B Lightning II jet

Wing Commander John Butcher, 35, is the new Officer Commanding 617 Squadron. He was named after his grandfather who also flew Lancasters in World War II.

“Gibson and his men flew at very low level to the target, with limited enemy awareness of what they were doing. When I flew the Harrier, much of our training was at low level preparing us to avoid enemy radars by hiding in the terrain. The F-35B Lightning uses stealth technology to hide from enemy radar systems, effectively making the aircraft invisible. This is a significant tactical advantage as an enemy cannot fight what he cannot see.”

Wing Commander Gibson and his crew board their Avro Lancaster

“In 1943 Gibson’s Lancasters had VHF radio telephones installed so that he could have direct speech communication with all of the aircraft. This was unusual for bomber aircraft at that time, but it was essential for him to co-ordinate the mission. Today in the F-35B Lightning we have a datalink that automatically shares information between pilots in real time, without even the need for voice communications. It’s a little like all of us using smart phones at the same time, we all see the same information on the same apps. It’s similar to the way your smart phone picks dates and times out of your emails and puts them in your calendar.”

A 617 Squadron Lancaster Bomber crew pictured sat next to the airfield at RAF Scampton in World War 2.

The Dambusters of 1943 were crews of British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and American personnel. The new 617 Squadron will be a combined team of Royal Navy and RAF personnel who will fly from both land and sea, based from RAF Marham and deployed periodically on the Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers. They will return to the UK in 2018 from their current training base of United States Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina, USA.

Members of the modern day 617 Squadron emulate the famous picture of the World War 2 617 Squadron with an F-35B Lightning II stealth jet.

“We work alongside the US Marines flying the jets and training pilots and maintainers every day. We’ve been working with our US partners since the beginning of the F-35 programme and we continue to develop the capabilities of the aircraft together. We work very closely with the US Air Force, US Navy, US Marine Corps and other international partners in making decisions on the programme; the relationships really couldn’t be better.”

Wing Commander Guy Gibson with members of his crew.

“Leading 617 Squadron as it starts this new chapter in its history is a huge privilege. If I could show Gibson around the F-35B Lightning and introduce him to the team, I hope he would feel the same spirit and determination that he created in 1943. I also think he would be very happy to see the Squadron once again re-forming for a very special purpose, staying true to the heritage of being at the cutting edge of aviation; I think he would like that.”

Airmen of 617 Squadron ‘The Dambusters’ Strike the same iconic pose of their WW2 predecessors, this time on the grass beside the airfield at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, USA.

Wing Commander John Butcher and members of 617 Squadron will bring the F-35B Lightning to the UK for the first time this Summer, flying role demonstrations at the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Air Show.

Photographs:

Wing Commander Guy Gibson, while Commanding Officer of No 617 Squadron RAF, wearing flying kit.

Wing Cdr Jon Butcher, Officer Commanding of 617 Squadron ‘The Dambusters’ standing in front of an F-35B Lightning II jet.

Wing Commander Gibson and his crew board their Avro Lancaster A3-G (ED 932/G) for the Dams' raid.

A 617 Squadron Lancaster Bomber crew pictured sat next to the airfield at RAF Scampton in World War 2.

Members of the modern day 617 Squadron emulate the famous picture of the World War 2 617 Squadron with an F-35B Lightning II stealth jet.

Wing Commander Guy Gibson with members of his crew. Left to right: Wing Commander Guy Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar; Pilot Officer P M Spafford, bomb aimer; Flight Lieutenant R E G Hutchinson, wireless operator; Pilot Officer G A Deering and Flying Officer H T Taerum, gunners.

Airmen of 617 Squadron ‘The Dambusters’ Strike the same iconic pose of their WW2 predecessors, this time on the grass beside the airfield at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, USA. L-R: Lt. Rich Pavey, Wing Cdr Jon Butcher, CPO Gary Lister, Chief Tech Gary Gibbons, Cpl Patrick Bearefield, AET Alfred Burrows.

© MOD Crown Copyright 2016

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