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The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a fifth-generation stealth fighter that has been developed to the replace 3rd and 4th generation combat aircraft such as the A-10, F-16, Harrier, Jaguar, and Hornet in NATO and allied nation service. The F-35 was developed from the X-35 which won the Joint Strike Fighter competition against the Boeing X-32. The F-35 has been produced in three different base variants, a standard land based fighter version (F-35A), a Short Take Off and Vertical Land version (F-35B), and a carrier based catapult and arrestor hook version (F-35C) all utilising a common internal configuration and software setup. The F-35 is capable of carrying weapons both on external wing pylons but also in an internal weapons bay increasing its stealth capabilities. The aircraft is also fitted with an advanced 360-degree optical system that can identify missiles or stealth aircraft approaching that would otherwise go undetected, the feed can also be sent to the pilots advanced helmet so when they look down, they see the ground and not the cockpit floor.
As the only Level One partner in the multi-national team that developed the F-35, the UK enjoyed better access to the technology being used in the aircraft and were able to influence the final capabilities of the aircraft to more suit its needs, especially from a weapons perspective. As a result, the F-35 is being cleared to carry UK-specific weapons such as the ASRAAM and Meteor air to air missiles. The UK was due to order a fleet of 138 F-35Bs which were to be split between the RAF and the Royal Navy however it is more than likely the final order will stand around 74. To date the UK has ordered 48 aircraft of which 30 had been delivered by the end of 2022. The F-35B is currently flown by 17Sqn at Edwards AFB in California and by 617Sqn (the Dambusters) and 207Sqn at RAF Marham in Norfolk.
The RAF will be sending one of their F-35Bs to appear on static display at this year's Air Tattoo. Whilst RAF F-35Bs have appeared at the Air Tattoo in the past in the flying display and have then parked in front of the crowd at the eastern end of the airfield, this will be the first time the RAF have displayed one of their F-35s on static at an airshow in the UK or Europe. Photo Credit: Paul Fiddian