Britain’s latest £78 million stealth fighter, the F-35B lightning stealth combat aircraft, is a “fifth generation” fighter jet that will play a key role in the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy’s offensive capabilities in the future.
The single-engine, single-seat, supersonic jet has the most technologically-advanced computers and networking capabilities of any aircraft, while its stealth capability makes detection by enemy radar very difficult. It has a lift fan mounted behind its cockpit, enabling it to take off and land vertically and to hover like a Harrier jet.
Manufactured by US defence company Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, the F-35 took its first flight on 24th October 2000, after being in the development stages since 1992. Following further developments, it transitioned into the F-35A on 15th December 2006, in co-operation with a number of foreign partners.
Britain’s BAE Systems manufactures about 15% of each airframe. Many other British companies manufacture sub-systems for the F-35, while Rolls-Royce provides the lift fan for the F-35B variant.
As the next upgrade of the F-35A, the F-35B completed its first vertical take-off test in May 2013. While this isn’t a capability used in combat, vertical take-off is required for repositioning the aircraft in an environment where a jet can’t perform a short take-off.
Earlier generation fighter jets carry missiles and bombs on the exterior of the aircraft, but this creates drag that slows them down, so the weapons on the F-35 are stored internally – it is also important to avoid creating a large radar signature.
The aircraft has a top speed of 1199mph, which is 1.6 times the speed of sound!
The F-35s will play a major role in Britain’s defence capabilities, entering service with the RAF and the Royal Navy in 2019. Intense training for personnel began in the United States this year and the RAF is expected to use the jets on missions early next year.
Pilots from 207 Squadron are currently training in America and will return as 617 Squadron, known as the Dambusters. Their base will be RAF Marham in Norfolk. The F-35B will operate from the Royal Navy’s two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, which are smaller than US carriers.
The F-35 programme is being rolled out across the world, including in the UK, the US, Turkey, Italy, Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Australia, Norway and in other countries. In the US, it will form the basis of the nation’s future military fleet.
According to a defence review published in 2015, the UK is believed to be buying around 140 of the jets, but this number is subject to amendment, depending on our ongoing defence needs as a nation.
The cost of the jet itself makes up only a fraction of the final price. Training personnel and servicing the aircraft increases the cost. It is estimated that each aircraft will cost around £78 million, according to the suppliers.
However, reports suggest it is money well spent. The test pilots have raved about its performance, saying it shot down enemies in training exercises before they were even aware it was there. Defence experts have hinted that it also has other capabilities that are classified for security reasons. These are said to make it a more than capable warplane.
The F-35’s stealth capability and computer technology mean it should be able to shoot down adversaries long before they get into dog-fighting range.
Although the F-35B Lightning jet can travel at 1199mph, this is nothing compared with an actual bolt of lightning, which travels at an astounding 220,000mph! More than capable of causing damage to buildings and injury to their inhabitants, the dangers of lightning are very real.
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Photo Credit – Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes