F-35 Dambusters Squadron Joins HMS Queen Elizabeth For First Time

British F-35B aircraft and crew from 617 Squadron have joined up with HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time.

Pilots, engineers and support staff from 617 Squadron, the UK's operational strike squadron, joined the aircraft carrier over the weekend, before four Lightning fighter jets landed on board after flying from RAF Marham.

The same jets welcomed on board the flight deck during the test phase will join HMS Queen Elizabeth on her maiden operation.

The vessel is undergoing sea trials for her Global Carrier Strike Group 21 deployment next year.

Later this year, crews will work alongside personnel and aircraft from the US Marine Corps to further understand the capability of the F-35B aircraft.

617 Squadron, which was formally stood up as a F-35B squadron in 2018, is known as 'The Dambusters' after the famous raids on German Dams in the Ruhr Valley in 1943 left RAF Marham to join the Royal Navy aircraft carrier on the North Sea.

Commander Mark Sparrow, Commanding Officer of 617 Squadron, said personnel had been "training hard".

"This is the first time the ship’s operational squadron has embarked and worked together," he said.

Commander Ed Phillips, who is in charge of flying operations on HMS Queen Elizabeth, said 617 Squadron joining the carrier was "a significant day for HMS Queen Elizabeth on the road to delivering carrier strike operations for the Royal Navy".

"We are at the heart of a world-leading capability for the UK and will soon have on our decks two squadrons of F-35s – from the UK and US – plus the protection of a strike group made up of destroyers, frigates and support ships," he said.

One of the F-35Bs taking off from HMS Queen Elizabeth for carrier sea trials (Picture: Royal Navy).
One of the F-35Bs taking off from HMS Queen Elizabeth for carrier sea trials (Picture: Royal Navy).

The next stage of carrier sea training now follows a successful month of basic sea training for HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The F-35Bs and crew on board will be required show the fighter jets can defend the aircraft carrier through short-notice take-offs and combat air patrols, which involve launching from the ship to conduct strike missions against an enemy.

It is also a chance for 617 Squadron to get more experience of working with a warship during the day and night in a maritime environment.

Afterwards, the Dambusters squadron will undergo tests alongside Merlin helicopters of Culdrose-based 820 Naval Air Squadron.

Group Captain James Beck, Station Commander of RAF, the home base of the Lightning Force, says the aim is for "initial operating capability maritime" to be declared for the F-35B by the end of 2020.

Once fully operational, HMS Queen Elizabeth will become part of a Carrier Strike Group, travelling with aircraft and vessels.

The carrier will be given specialist protection from threats on, above and below waters alongside designated fuel replenishment ships.

She will return to Portsmouth later this month following carrier sea training.