Iconic Dambusters Squadron Makes Historic Transition

617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force has been formally stood up as the RAF's first F35B Lightning II squadron...

The RAF's 617 Squadron has been formally stood up as the RAF's first operational F-35B Lightning II squadron.

The announcement was made during a special event in Washington DC, part of the celebrations for the Royal Air Force in its centenary year.

In the heart of the US capital, history was made as 617 Squadron formally stood up as an operational squadron.

They are not, however, the first F-35B Lightning II squadron in the RAF - that honour belongs to17 Squadron, based in the United States at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

With the support of the Queens Colour Squadron and the Central Band of the RAF, the ceremony was held in front of British and American guests from across both air forces.

General Stephen Wilson, Vice Chief of Staff for the US Air Force said:  

“The Dambusters will be flying the F35 Lightning, a fifth-generation air fighter ready to deter and win. We will take it to the skies together again.

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Whilst Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier added:

“The US Marine Corps have provided outstanding support to us, for which we are exceptionally grateful, ensuring that transatlantic link remains as strong as ever.”

The UK has taken delivery of 15 of the F35B models so far.

But it's not been without its controversy; there have been debates about the cost and numbers of the jets, but it is an example of the special relationship in practice. 

Group Captain Willy Hackett told us about the UK’s special position within the programme:

“We brought people and knowledge into this programme from the Harrier, which is why we’re a level one partner- we bring great knowledge and great know-how”.

The Squadron is one with a long legacy as they flew Tornados in Afghanistan, but are best remembered for the Dambusters Raid of the Second World War.

617 Squadron will fly their F35B's back from Beaufort in South Carolina to their new base at RAF Marham this summer, ready to declare their operational capability over land later.

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