The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF / KLu) received its first next-generation fighter, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II on July 25th, 2013. Although the Joint Strike Fighter is now officially Dutch, it will almost immediately after the planned ferry flight from Forth Worth, Texas, to Eglin AFB, Florida, be stored there. Reason: the Dutch parliament has not decided yet if it likes to continue with the purchase of up to 56 F-35s.
The Netherlands ordered two aircraft, the first in 2009, but budget crises and increasing JSF development and production costs scared off the Dutch people’s representatives a bit.
The second Dutch test JSF has been produced as well. According to the Dutch Ministry of Defence it undergoes a series of test and acceptance flights before it will join the first KLu F-35 stored at Eglin. The mothballing will continue until the Netherlands government makes a final decision on which aircraft will succeed the RNLAF F-16 fighters.
The Royal Air Force announced that 617 Squadron ‘Dambusters’ will be the first operational squadron using Lockheed Martin Lightning II aircraft, designated F-35B and also known as the Joint Strike Fighter.
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton made the announcement at a Royal United Services Institute conference on Air Power. 617 Squadron is first to disband on April 1st, 2014, when its Tornado GR4 aircraft will be retired. The Dambusters will rise from the ashes in 2016 when the new Lightning II will be delivered.
The UK’s Lightning II is the Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, which will give the supersonic multi-role stealth aircraft the ability to operate from airbases at land or from aircraft carriers at sea. When it reforms in 2016, 617 Squadron will have both RAF and Royal Navy personnel. The second Lightning II squadron will a Royal Navy one but will be similarly manned by both RAF and RN personnel.
Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, will get 72 additional F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft, bringing the eventual total number of the fifth-generation fighters expected there at 144.
The Air Force’s initial decision to establish an F-35 pilot training center here was announced in August 2012, following a three-year process that included an extensive environmental impact analysis.
The Lockheed Martin F-35A, also known as Joint Strike Fighter, intended to be the Air Force’s premier strike aircraft through the first half of the 21st century. It is a multirole fighter that is expected to eventually phase out the F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thuderbolt II.
Aircraft are expected to begin arriving at Luke AFB in spring 2014, although exact timing will depend on production schedules. Construction on base to prepare for the aircraft is currently underway, with about US$10 million of US$57 million in projects already completed.
The 2012 Record of Decision cited several reasons why Luke AFB was the service’s top choice for F-35A basing, including facility and ramp capacity, range access, weather and capacity for future growth. The base has been training fighter pilots for more than 70 years.
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 5: In the year 2014 Norway can still count on six F-16 pilot training positions in the USA (Forsvaret). But how it looks in 2015 is still uncertain.
The Norwegian Armed Forces (Forsvaret) and political parties are ‘not amused’ by a recent American move to cut the number of Norwegian F-16 pilot training positions in the USA from six to only two, reports Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten on July 17th, 2013.
The US action could be both for financial reasons and to free training spots for Iraqi and Japanese pilots, say sources to the newspaper.
Norway has committed itself to the F-16 and more or less to its successor the F-35 Lightning II (Joint Strike Fighter). The biggest Norwegian opposition party (conservative Høyre) now wants the government to postpone signing the F-35 main contract or cancel it all together.
Currently six pilots are doing their lead-in fighter training in the USA on the T-38 Talon. For four of them it is now highly uncertain if they can continue as previously planned on the F-16 Fighting Falcon in Tuscon (Arizona) later this year. It also confronts the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) with the possible lack of qualified pilots for the defence of the country.
The UK’s third new Lightning II fighter jet (F-35B) arrived at Eglin AFB in Florida in June to start pilot and maintainer training, reports the press department of manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
USMC Lt. Col. Roger Hardy piloted the aircraft known as BK-3 (ZM137) on its 90-minute ferry flight from the F-35 production plant at NAS Fort Worth JRB.
The F-35 Lightning II is a 5th Generation fighter, combining stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information and network-enabled operations.
Once delivered in several years from now the Lightning II will be deployed aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carriers. Therefore the B-version of the F-35 has special Short Take-off and Vertical Landing abilities. The US Marine Corps aims to have their F-35Bs at Initial Operational Capability in 2015.
The UK’s Lightnings are produced by Lockheed Martin in co-operation with Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, GE Aviation, Martin-Baker, SELEX, Cobham, Ultra Electronics, UTC Actuation Systems and Rolls-Royce.