Aircraft

Milestone for UK's F-35Bs as fighter fleet hits 10,000 flight hours

The achievement has been nearly 10 years in the making with the first F-35 jet being delivered to the UK in 2012.

The UK's F-35 programme has soared to a new milestone, crossing the threshold of 10,000 flight hours.

It has been nearly 10 years in the making, with the first F-35B jet being delivered to the UK in 2012.

Designed by the 'best and brightest' in the two nations' aircraft industries, the F-35 programme is an Anglo-American joint effort.

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Described as the 'most advanced fighter jet in the world', the F-35 jet has three variants: the F-35A conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) variant, the F-35B short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) variant - which the UK operates - and the F-35C carrier variant (CV).

The overall F-35B Lightning jets programme is the most expensive weapons system in military history. An estimated cost from 2015 put the price at £78m per jet, without engine or electronics.

For everything included, the Lightning jets come in at a grand total of £190m.

UK F-35 milestones over the years 

In 2010, Squadron Leader Steve Long became the first British pilot to fly an F-35.

After two years, the first F-35 was delivered by Lockheed Martin to the UK, also in the process became the first F-35 to be delivered to an international customer. 

Number 17 Reserve Squadron launch from Edwards Air Force Base in California and are tasked with the full-time operational test and evaluation of the F-35B in 2014. 

July 2016, is when the F-35 made its long-awaited European and UK debut at the Royal Internation Air Tattoo air show. 

In June 2018, the first four F-35s arrived for permanent basing at RAF Marham in Norfolk.

Watch: UK F-35Bs land on HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time in 2020.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for the F-35B from land in January 2019.

Later that year, the RAF deployed F-35s to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus from where the aircraft completed its first operational missions.

The Lightning jets flew alongside Typhoon aircraft over Iraq and Syria in support of Operation Shader - Britain's contribution to the fight against so-called Islamic State.

Months later in October, British F-35Bs landed on HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time - about a year after the first F-35Bs - American-owned aircraft flown by British pilots - landed on the warship.

In February 2020, four F-35s completed the first night landings on HMS Queen Elizabeth in UK waters.

This followed the aircraft operating from the carrier during the previous month – the first time British fighter jets had operated from a Royal Navy aircraft carrier in home waters in a decade.

And in December 2020, the Royal Navy declared the Maritime IOC for the F-35B.

Watch: F-35Bs take off for first combat missions from HMS Queen Elizabeth.

In May of this year, the UK's Carrier Strike Group 2021 (CSG21), the largest Royal Navy deployment in more than 10 years, launched with F-35Bs from 617 Squadron on board HMS Queen Elizabeth.

A month later, British F-35Bs conducted their first combat missions from HMS Queen Elizabeth - carrying out operational sorties in support of Operation Shader. 

Just last month, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales simultaneously launched F-35B Lightning fighter jets for the first time.

Lockheed Martin, the main American company building the jets, describes the F-35's stealth capabilities as "unprecedented".

By design, its advanced materials and other features make it "virtually undetectable to enemy radar".