The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II will make its first appearance outside the U.S. this summer, flying at both the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) and the Farnborough International airshow in England in mid-July, the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced. The decision followed discussions between U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his UK counterpart, Philip Hammond.
The F-35’s international debut comes as the program faces ongoing challenges at home and abroad. Two partner countries—Denmark and Canada—are reassessing their F-35 purchase plans. In the U.S., Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 10, said funding constraints could force her service to cancel 19 F-35As over the next five years.
According to the MoD, about 15 percent of every fighter is sourced in the UK. “The U.S. and the UK have worked closely together on the F-35 project from the beginning,” Hammond stated. “We are the only country that is a first-tier partner in the project, which is sustaining tens of thousands of jobs in the UK. This fifth-generation stealth combat aircraft will be a major boost to British combat air power, and it is entirely fitting that the F-35’s first stop outside the United States will be in the UK.”
The back-to-back airshows will feature the F-35B short takeoff, vertical landing variant the British Royal Navy and Royal Air Force plan to operate. Organizers expect two U.S. Marine Corps and one British F-35B will arrive at the Royal Air Force station in Fairford, Gloucestershire, where the RIAT takes place from July 11 to 13. One of the fighters will appear in flying displays. The F-35 will then move to the Farnborough Airshow southwest of London, which takes place from July 14 to 20.
“Not only will people witness aviation history being made at the Air Tattoo this summer but they will also see a breathtaking demonstration of the future of combat aviation,” promised Andy Armstrong, RIAT chief executive designate. Amanda Stainer, Farnborough International commercial director, said: “We are delighted that the news has now been confirmed after weeks of speculation. We are incredibly pleased that the UK MoD and the U.S. Department of Defense have chosen the event to showcase the aircraft.”
The MoD now has three F-35B test aircraft stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. British Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots and maintainers are undergoing training on the fighter there. The UK’s first F-35 operational unit—617 Squadron—will transition from training in the U.S. to RAF Marham in 2018, before beginning flight trials on the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth later that year, the MoD said. The UK plans to procure 138 F-35Bs for joint operation by its air force and navy.