back to article Lightning strikes: Britain's first F-35B supersonic fighter lands

The first of the Royal Air Force's new F-35B Joint Strike Fighter jets landed on British soil last night, heralding a new era for the Royal Air Force. The supersonic Lightning II, as it will be known in RAF service, was flown across the Atlantic by RAF Squadron Leader Hugh Nicols, in the company of two US Marine Corps F-35Bs …

        1. Dave 15

          Re: !Wings of 12

          Mind the carriers are much harder to miss with your missiles, torpedoes and bombs.

          What did the idiots do scrapping the harriers and the old carriers... I guess they lined their back pocket..

          Just watched the BBC video of Cam moron standing on the Ark telling the sailors just how amazing they are, how much he wants to thank them, how important it is to have the capability.... blah blah blah... when they say he is a two faced slimy ..... they aren't wrong.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: !Wings of 12

        "The air wing of each carrier will consist of 12 F-35Bs."

        Given that one carrier is going to be laid up more-or-less permanently as soon as it's launched, the only good news about this is that we'll only need to buy 12 F35s

        The less said about HMS Sitting Duck and HMS White Elephant the better.

        1. Adam 52 Silver badge

          Re: !Wings of 12

          I'm not sure how amenable the French will be any more to the plan for us to borrow the Charles de Gaulle, and all of a sudden we've got a lot of remote assets (Gibraltar blockade running...) to protect. We might be needing both.

          1. IsJustabloke

            Re: I'm not sure how amenable the French will be

            We've voted to leave the EU not NATO.

      2. x 7

        Re: !Wings of 12

        At the end of the Harrier's life, there were notionally two RAF Squadrons, and two RN Squadrons (though under RAF control). However the RAF ran down the two RN squadrons to the point that they didn't have enough aircrew or groundstaff to man both. So the RN was forced to try and hide the fact by compositing 800 and 801 NAS into the "Naval Strike Wing" to create one thinly crewed squadron, with the pretence that a second squadron existed

        Yet another example of the RAF shafting the RN

        The F-35 Naval Strike Wing will be the same - 809 Squadron will never be fully manned, instead you'll get a rag-tag composite group made up from whoever the RAF have spare at the time from the whole F-35 fleet. Because its unstructured it won't qualify as a Squadron - so it'll be disguised as a "wing" instead

  1. Jay 2

    I still wish we'd managed to sort out the new carriers' power and got ourselves some (presumeably cheaper and working) F-35C. This is the closest thing to good news I've heard about the F-35B in a very long time. Whilst I quite liked the Harrier, I didn't think there was a need for a complete like-for-like replacement. More so as they were decommed over here quite a while ago.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "I still wish we'd managed to sort out the new carriers' power"

      It wasn't the power that precluded F35Cs

      BAE Systems are building the ships.

      BAE Systems are providing mantainence contracts for the F35

      BAE Systems quoted more than the price of a new ship to convert the existing ones from skiramp to flattop - the price being close to the actual cost of conversion ($100 million) PLUS the amount it would lose out on from not having the F35 contract.

    2. thames

      The carriers were supposed to get the new American electromagnetic catapult and arrestor system. However, that has turned out to be a complete fiasco so far, so it seems like Britain dodged a bullet on that one. The Americans will probably sort things out eventually, but the problems would have reduced Britain's new carriers to helicopter carriers only in the mean time.

      However that was luck. The decision actually came down to someone in the MoD doing the sums and finding out that when you factor training and the rotation of pilots into the equation, the 'B' (vertical take off) version was much cheaper for Britain to operate.

      "Conventional" take-off and landing on a carrier takes constant practice for the pilots to retain qualifications, and it ties up a carrier while they do so. All of that cost loads of money in fuel. salaries, and equipment hours. Britain plans to operate the planes and pilots from a common "pool" with the RAF, to provide more flexibility and to ensure the carriers aren't dependent upon a very small pool of dedicated naval pilots.

      The short "rolling" take off and landing (they won't actually use vertical take off or landing) capability in the F-35B is nearly automated, and is simpler than it was with a Harrier, and vastly simpler and easier to learn than catapult and arrestor hook equivalents. The pilots can rehearse this on land airfields (equipped with a ramp for this purpose), which means that the carrier can be on active operations rather than tied up in training maintaining pilot currency. The carriers can operate with 12 F-35Bs under normal circumstances, but "surge" to several dozen more as circumstances require, and all without having to maintain a dedicated pool of specialised naval pilots.

      So overall, given the UK's particular situation, they decided to go with the solution that saved significant amounts of money, provided more operational flexibility, and didn't tie up a carrier as much with training. But the money saving was the big one.

      P.S. - When reading about costs in the press, keep in mind that the MoD does full life cycle accounting these days, which includes fuel and salaries, which together can greatly exceed the sticker price of a plane. You have to dig to find out what those are however, as the popular press often don't understand what those are and just publishes a "big number" and let's you assume that is the sticker price.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @thames - wonderfully informative post, thanks. You're not by any chance at the DPA, are you?


  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "supersonic fighter"

    If I was a journalist looking for an adjective to characterise the F-35, "supersonic" would not do the job - our fighters have all been supersonic for decades.

    1. Rich 11

      Re: "supersonic fighter"

      The Harriers weren't supersonic.

      1. rh587

        Re: "supersonic fighter"

        The Harriers weren't supersonic.

        Technically they weren't fighters either. Our fighters have indeed been supersonic for decades.

        The Harrier was an air interdiction/close air support strike platform, hence it's GR5/7/9 designations (Ground attack and Reconnaissance). As it happens it performed quite well air-to-air against Argentine fighters as well, being highly manoeuvrable with it's vectored thrust and strongly anhedral wings. But that wasn't it's design role.

        1. Matthew Smith

          Re: "supersonic fighter"

          True, though its main superiority was it was so slow in comparison to the Mirages, was that the Harrier could put on its airbrakes and watch as the Mirage flew past in front. After that, the massively superior american Sidewinders would do the rest.

        2. SkippyBing

          Re: "supersonic fighter"

          'Technically they weren't fighters either. Our fighters have indeed been supersonic for decades.'

          The Sea Harrier was a fighter though, hence the FRS1 (Fighter, Reconnisance, Strike) and F/A-2 (Fighter/Attack) designations. Fitting it with an air to air radar was a bit of a clue, plus the AMRAAM missiles on the later version.

        3. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

          Re: "supersonic fighter"

          In a flat dive a Harrier could go supersonic. Read the reports from the Falklands written by the pilots themselves.

          1. Matthew Smith

            Re: "supersonic fighter"

            In a flat dive, a Sopwith Camel could got supersonic.

            1. itzman

              Re: "supersonic fighter"

              In a flat dive, a Sopwith Camel could got supersonic.

              Er no. WE had to wait for WWII before manned aircraft were - if not going supersonic - at least getting close enough to destroy themselves. There is anecdotal evidence that maybe a late model spitfire or a tempest may have exceeded the sound barrier and lived to tell the tale, but no one really knows.

            2. thegroucho

              Re: "supersonic fighter"

              There is something called "never exceed speed", I suspect Sopwith Camel's would be unlikely anywhere near this high.

              Maybe in vacuum?

              1. Danny 14

                Re: "supersonic fighter"

                The hawk isn't supersonic and is classed as a fighter.

            3. Nurg

              Re: "supersonic fighter"

              That's true but it's not considered a successful dive if it results in a pancake. Also, less crucially, it never actually happened.

            4. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: "supersonic fighter"

              In a flat dive, a Sopwith Camel's wings would probably fall off...

          2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: "supersonic fighter" @Steve Davies 3

            Supersonic in a dive is known as transonic.

            1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

              Re: "supersonic fighter" @Steve Davies 3

              No, transonic is when airflow around different parts of the aircraft are above, at, or slightly below the speed of sound. The dive is irrelevant.

        4. MJI Silver badge

          Re: "supersonic fighter"





          They had RADAR and Sidewinders, they were fighters

        5. The First Dave

          Re: "supersonic fighter"

          The designation of the Fleet Air Arm's Harriers (the ones that actually lived on carriers) was FRS.1 ...

        6. x 7

          Re: "supersonic fighter"

          "As it happens it performed quite well air-to-air against Argentine fighters as well,"

          The SEA HARRIER did that, not the Harrier. The Harriers dropped bombs during the Falklands war, all the air-to-air stuff was done by the Sea Harriers, which were optimised as an interceptor for knocking down Russian Badgers and Bears. The Sea Harriers were never intended for air defence / air superiority work against other fighters - the radars didn't even have a look-down capability. The seajets had to fly below the level of the incoming argies to be able to pick them up. Quite remarkable airmanship.

          The MkII Sea Harrier with the Blue Vixen radar was the only Harrier variant capable of air superiority work, but even that was subsonic. It was actually the most potent radar we've ever had, but true to form the aircraft were withdrawn prematurely

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "supersonic fighter"

        Harriers entered service in 1969.

        And, like the F-35B, they were somewhat different to other "fighters".

        So "supersonic short takeoff fighter", for example, would have been appropriate.

  3. Ucalegon

    Typical, now Lighting striking twice?

  4. graeme leggett Silver badge

    70 -odd years since jet age started

    July 1948 was first crossing of Atlantic by jet fighters. Six Vampires.

    Though they had to stop in Iceland, Greenland etc along the way.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: 70 -odd years since jet age started

      "Though they had to stop in Iceland, Greenland etc along the way."

      Air-to-air refuelling not being a "thing" back then....

      1. graeme leggett Silver badge

        Re: 70 -odd years since jet age started

        Air to air refuelling did exist, Cobham had been working on it during the war and there were plans to use it in the Pacific.

        I think having to pilot across water using a map in your lap was something to do with it as well. Keeping the sections short and maximising chance of somewhere hard and earthy to put down on - or bail out over - would be a good thing in my mind.

      2. Danny 14

        Re: 70 -odd years since jet age started

        the range of the vampire was 1220 miles, so it could go further than the F35....

  5. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    If I was the Air Marshall...

    I'd buy stuff based on how cool I thought it was, so it would be A-10 Thunderbolts all the way for me. I'm not sure I'd last long in the job though... but perhaps just long enough to have a go in one and blow some stuff up with the mega-canon on the front.

    1. Vic

      Re: If I was the Air Marshall...

      I'd buy stuff based on how cool I thought it was

      That's basically what they did - they spent all the money on Typhoon, so the other current platforms had to go. If F35 ever turns up, we'll have to work out how to pay for it...


  6. John 104

    @A10 Warthog

    Top 5 coolest airborne weapons platform ever. And yet, my stupid government wants to replace them with the idiotic F35? That's one I don't understand. Reliable, tough, combat proven, and very cheap to build/maintain. Greased palms are to blame, I suspect.

    1. fnj

      It has to do with the inescapable fact that A-10s are meat on the table for any kind of fighter; even a 50 year old fighter design. But so were B-17s in their day, and that did not make them useless. P-51s could escort them, and nowadays if we would only build A-10s PLUS single-purpose air-superiority fighters, and use them both together, we would get a hell of a lot more bang for our buck - or I should say a much better bang PLUS much less bucks overall for the bang.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "A-10s are meat on the table for any kind of fighter"

        A10s are not fighters. They're ground attack aircraft (hence the "A" designation)

        For that matter F35s aren't meant to be either. They're Close Air Support and Ground Attack aircraft.

        F22s are supposed to take care of the pesky aspect of taking out any SAM and airborne opponents. The F35 is intended to go in and do the mopping up once air superiority has been established and was supposed to be a cheap alternative once the expensive F22 had done its job.

        F22 got "too expensive", so was discontinued and F35 expanded into multirole functions.

        The Ironic thing being that "cheap" F35s are now more expensive per piece than the "expensive" F22s with the price tag continuing to increase by the day. It should have been dumped (like the F111B was) and replaced with a better design (F14 and 15 were both cheap jets to fill the gap that the F111B cancellation opened up), but the procurement and manufacture model has deliberately been setup so that cancellation willl affect too many senators' pork.

        It's not for nothing that it's nicknamed the Jet that ate the Pentagon. The primary lesson learned from the F111B exercise was how to set things up so that they can't possibly be cancelled.

        1. Mark 85

          I doubt seriously that the F35 has the wherewithal to do serious close air support/ground attack. Minimal armor, a pretty poor loiter time on target, etc. It does, however, have the "F" designation which the USAF loves. The Army/Marines love the A10 for support at it does what they need. The other F's that have pressed into the job.. not so much. I'm not sure if it's still in discussion but from what last heard, the Army and the Marines were discussing the feasibility of taking in the A10's once the AF decides to get out of the ground attack business.

      2. John 104


        Of course they are meat on the table. They are intended to come in after air superiority has been established.

  7. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Just one small vital point to consider ........

    Surely all conflicts and future wars are waged to be won and lost in cyberspace, and that prime strategic and tactical area of command and control is beyond the reach of any old time machinery and explosive munitions, no matter how shiny brand new and effective they may be touted and sold to the ill-informed.

    Is modern-day Lightning II type weaponry, latter day Spruce Goose territory? Too little too late and too expensive to boot in an era abounding with commanding control areas which practically renders it virtually useless and an anachronistic museum piece before its time? And the answer to all of those simple questions is a resounding and uncomfortably truthful, YES.

    1. MrDamage Silver badge

      Re: Just one small vital point to consider ........

      Please explain how a cyberspace "war" is going to stop North Korea from deciding to head south?

      Or "Russian Sympathisers" from marching into another country that Putin likes the look of?

      You can't code your way around an angry mob.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Just one small vital point to consider ........

        "You can't code your way around an angry mob."

        Hack the IoT road signs and street names?

      2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Just one small vital point to consider ........ @MrDamage

        It is quite clearly evident with your post, MrDamage, that cyberspace warriors have very successfully invaded and taken over command and control of your head space type with the implantation of a very particular and peculiar otherworldly media hosted and broadbandcasted view ...... which is in the Bigger Picture of Great Games Plays, a designedly narrow and harrowing perspective in service of an inevitably self-destructive Military Industrial Security Complex Program and Projects.

        Is uncomfortable, indisputable evidence of such as fact presented here ...... and the result of a palpable fear of an emerging rising popular backlash against brainwashed public civil service forces supported here .....The Militarisation of America?

        It's all about the printing and spending of mountains of paper money in some very weird and closed circuit circles, Mr Damage, causing all the damage and creating all the conflicts, and apparently, if you can believe many recent media accounts, Mark Carney, the foreigner Canadian presently at the helm of the Bank of England, and boy oh boy is that an alien outsourcing, is a fan of the process and planning to unleash another wave to save and stabilise crooked markets. Some would consider that certainly perverse and even downright criminal. And with a Parliamentary system colluding, what does that say of the mother of all democracies? A disgraceful sham and global fraud?

        It's a mad,mad, mad, mad world in deed, indeed, and a space place of never ending unbelievable bounty for the sane to betametadatamine and exploit ‽ . :-) Yep, it sure is at least that.

      3. Vic

        Re: Just one small vital point to consider ........

        Please explain how a cyberspace "war" is going to stop North Korea from deciding to head south?

        Or, indeed, how F-35 would?


    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just one small vital point to consider ........

      No its drones all the way down, cause thats all you will be able to afford

  8. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Obsolete already?

    With the advance of drones and introduction of 'throwaway' autonomous craft, what's the point of this?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Obsolete already?

      Lining the pockets of defense contractors of course. Once the F35 program is mostly complete, then you'll see the Pentagon and MoD being touting the need to get the autonomous drones that replace manned aircraft in these roles. But they'll manage to make them cost $100 million each because they've now learned that making one plane that's jack of all trades but master of none makes them ridiculously expensive.

      Somehow they'll argue that expensive planes are needed even without a human onboard, at least until conflict with the cheap drone squads that China will create in the meantime and sell to its allies eats us alive in a future Middle East war and we are told we need yet ANOTHER expensive program to close the gap!

  9. JeffyPoooh

    Same thing, precisely...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The supersonic Lightning II, as it will be known in RAF service,

    The RAF can call it whatever they want, but they're sullying the name Lightning..

    Boondoggle would be more apposite.

    1. Jan 0 Silver badge

      Re: The supersonic Lightning II, as it will be known in RAF service,

      It is a sad day that sees the official name of the English Electric P1a hijacked so thoroughly. This is an insult to the great British designers and engineers that emerged after World War II. I am wrenched by the contempt I feel for the politicians and financiers who have conspired so thoroughly to destroy British engineering and trade.

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