The first of Britain’s new supersonic stealth strike fighters F-35B Lightning II made their maiden appearance at RAF Marham on Friday, where the jets will be homed in 2018.
Hundreds gathered to see the jets complete their first flypast at the base, including the UK’s first Lightning force commander, Air Commodore Harv Smyth.
After the flypast, Air Commodore Smyth said: “One word: awesome. I’ve been involved with Lightning for well over 10 years and to have gone from a good idea on paper to seeing it designed and built and now flying over the base that I used to command, by a pilot who I am good friends with is a 360 degree kind of homecoming moment for me.”
Marham is rebuilding 90 per cent of its base to accommodate the jets, which are due to arrive from South Carolina’s MCAS Beaufort in the spring of 2018, ready for use in the summer.
The airbase will be the only Royal Air Force station in the UK to have the jets, for which £300 million of investment has already been announced.
Air Commodore Smyth said that much of the manufacturing work has been done in the UK and a vast amount of the building work at Marham has and will be completed by contracters within the West Norfolk area.
He added: “This programme will secure Marham’s future for the next 40 years.”
Group Captain Rich Davies, RAF Marham station commander, said: “This really marks the start of a new journey for RAF Marham. It’s very exciting.”
The £100 million jets will return from America in 2018 and reform the Dambuster 617 squadron at the base.
Wing Commander John Butcher, who is commanding officer of 617, will be in charge of what he described as a “milestone moment” and will bring his squadron back in two years’ time.
RAF Marham will be gaining a secondary runway at the site, as well as three vertical landing pads so that pilots will be able to practise vertical manoeuvres.
In addition to the significance the new force has on UK industry, jobs and prosperity, according to Air Commodore Smyth, Lightning II will play a vital role in fighting so-called Islamic State.
The UK has 138 jets on order, and 3,100 jets have been requested worldwide.
The fifth generation planes are designed to be a flexible integrated air system and can land at any base around the world.