The first of Britain’s next-generation fighter jets have taken off from the United States and are flying over the Atlantic Ocean towards RAF Marham. The first of Britain’s new F-35 Lightning aircraft, due to be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, took off from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina earlier today. They are being flown by British pilots of the newly-reformed 617 Squadron, which was immortalised by the famous Dambusters’ raid during World War II. The F-35s’ planned arrival two months ahead of schedule will provide an opportunity for support staff to get a head-start in preparing the aircraft for operational service at the end of this year. Around £550m has been invested in RAF Marham as part of a major programme to get the base ready to house the new jets, including a facilities upgrade, resurfaced runways and new landing pads to accommodate the jet’s ability to land vertically. This autumn, the first landing of the F-35 will take place on HMS Queen Elizabeth in the next phase of trials. Having both ship and aircraft operating together for the first time will be another significant moment for the Armed Forces. The Lightning, as the aircraft will be known in the UK, is the first to combine radar-evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds and the ability to conduct short take-offs and vertical landings. It will be jointly operated by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy and can operate from land and sea, forming a vital part of ‘carrier strike’, the use of the aircraft from Britain’s new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. This is the first tranche of F-35s to arrive, with RAF Voyager aircraft providing air-to-air refuels on their trans-Atlantic journey. More jets are due in Britain later this year, and there is an overall plan to procure 138. The F-35 is the world’s largest defence programme at over $1.3 trillion, and UK industry is providing 15% of every one of over 3,000 jets set for the global order book. That makes the economic impact greater than if we were building 100% of all 138 aircraft which we intend to buy. The programme has already generated $12.9Bn worth of orders and at peak production will support thousands of British manufacturing and engineering jobs. Just last week, the F-35 programme awarded a contract worth over $2bn for aircraft propulsion systems, which will have significant benefits for Rolls-Royce and their supply chain.