The first British squadron has begun operational testing of the Royal Navy’s fifth generation strike fighters destined for the nation’s new aircraft carriers.
17 (Reserve) Squadron, which comprises both Royal Navy and RAF pilots and engineers, was officially stood up at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
The squadron, which was first formed in 1915, will be responsible for all the testing and evaluation of the UK’s first F-35B Lightning II aircraft, known as BK-1.
PO Gary Lister, who is responsible for maintaining the ejection seats and crew escape system as well as managing the weapons on the aircraft, said:
The F-35 has a myriad of sensors and technologies which means every aspect of the aircraft is constantly being tested.
This means when snags are found, they aren’t just fixed, but analysed and scrutinised to help future fault diagnosis and streamline the maintenance effort; it’s a hugely complex aircraft which will give both the navy and the RAF a superb capability.
The squadron will move to RAF Marham in Norfolk in 2018 and become 617 Squadron.
The second F-35B squadron will bear the name 809 NAS and both squadrons will fly from the HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales carriers.
The UK has taken delivery of three F-35B jets to date, which are based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, Edwards Air Force Base in California and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina.
An order was placed for a fourth UK aircraft in September 2013, which will be delivered early in 2016.
The UK also has a further four aircraft on order.
Image: Royal Navy