First U.K. Fighter Pilots Fly F-35 Straight from Training
LONDON — Two British pilots have become the first in their services to fly the F-35 Lightning II straight from training. Known as ab initio pilots, the pilots, identified as U.K. Royal Air Force Flt. Lt. Liam and Royal Navy Lt. Chris, had never flown a frontline aircraft solo before taking to the skies in the multi-role combat aircraft.
‘‘It was a sensational experience and, as the culmination of many years training, was certainly the highlight of my time in the RAF so far,” Liam said, after his flight. “I was astonished at the jet’s performance and at how well the simulator had prepared me for taking the Lightning flying. Much of the first flight is about exploring the aircraft’s performance envelope and breaking the sound barrier was a particular highlight. It is easy to see why every pilot here loves flying the aircraft and I am eager to press on and get stuck in to operating the Lightning and exploring it’s potential.’’
‘‘To fly a Lightning for the first time is almost indescribable,” said pilot Chris said. “After over seven years of training in the Royal Navy, to finally get into the real aircraft and take it airborne was one of the proudest and most exciting experiences of my life so far. The computer systems, helmet display and sensors are at the cutting edge of what is currently possible and I’m extremely excited to work on exploiting this potential as well as being part of its integration with HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales over the coming years.”
With no two-seat variant of the F-35, the first flight for any pilot in a Lightning is always solo.
‘‘I am delighted that our first two ab initio pilots have flown Lightning and joined the rapidly expanding cadre of U.K. Lightning pilots,” said Air Commodore Linc Taylor, senior responsible owner for the U.K.’s Lightning Program. “For any military pilot, the first time you fly a frontline aircraft is something you never forget, but to be the first to progress straight from training to fly F-35 is something to be especially proud of.’’
The training of U.K. Lightning pilots currently is undertaken as part of a much larger U.K. Detachment at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C. This “pooling” arrangement with the U.S. Marine Corps facilitates the high training rate necessary to build the essential numbers of personnel qualified and experienced to form the first operational U.K. squadron, No. 617 Squadron (the Dambusters) later this year.