British F-35s Back In UK After Two-Month Cyprus Exercise

Four of the UK's Lightning jets have returned to the UK after a two-month exercise on the island.

Four of the UK’s F-35Bs have just returned to the UK after a two-month exercise in Cyprus.

During their time on the island, the Lightning jets flew their first operational missions over Iraq and Syria.

Before leaving RAF Akrotiri, Wing Commander John Butcher, Officer Commanding, 617 Squadron, described what it is like to fly the world's most advanced warplane.

A former Harrier pilot, Wg Cdr Butcher also instructed on the F-18 at Miramar, the Californian airbase made famous by the movie Top Gun.  

His latest job sees him commanding the famous Dambusters Squadron and flying the world's newest and most advanced stealth fighter.

"It's a pretty clean, clear cockpit... there are two rather large displays," said Wing Commander Butcher describing his flying experience on the F35s.

"When you step into Lightning, it does really feel like you are stepping into the future."

Pilot prepares to fly F35 back to the UK 020719 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Four RAF F35s have left Akrotiri to return to the UK.

"The selection process for Lightning is no different than it is for Typhoon," explained Wg Cdr Butcher.

After completing the training, the applicants then compete for the position flying either a Lightning or a Typhoon.

"It has been pretty fierce [competition] because there were such small numbers initially," he said.

However, he believes that as the number of the Lightning grows, the competition will even out.

Every pilot in 617 Squadron has combat experience with previous aircraft types, with the squadron being reformed especially for the F-35.

Currently, the UK has 17 of the 'B' variant, with plans to eventually buy 138.

F-35s are different from other aircraft, say Wing Commander Butcher: "The F-35 is a brand new capability, unlike anything we have seen before."

F35 pilot waves goodbye to Cyprus 020719 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Wing Commander Butcher feels being able to fly an F35 is a "huge privilege".

The aircraft can do fast take-off and vertical landing, but those are just some of their features. 

"It has the mission sets to go and drop bombs, find missiles, or to do electronic attack," he added.

"Each F-35 that is out in the battlespace is constantly talking to each other about what each individual aircraft is seeing and communicating that.

"Then, we are able to push that out through a linked network so that our allies and fourth-generation Typhoons can see what is going on," said Wg Cdr Butcher.

As a pilot, Wing Commander Butcher feels being able to fly an F-35 is a "huge privilege".

"It is a state-of-the-art world-leading combat aircraft."