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FEATURE: New Era for the Dambusters

Photo: A United Kingdom F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter lands aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort Dec. 14. This is the final F-35B to be delivered to the UK team at MCAS Beaufort prior to their departure from the air station in 2018. UK Pilots and Maintainers have been a part of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 since they arrived at MCAS Beaufort in 2014.

 

The Dams raid and the innovative bouncing bomb used in the attack may forever define 617 Sqn, but its latest incarnation into a supersonic stealth F-35B unit ensures its reputation for being at the cutting edge applies equally today, as Officer Commanding, Wg Cdr John Butcher, proudly tells editor Dino Carrara.

This is a special year for the RAF’s 617 Sqn – not only does it mark the 75th anniversary since the famous attack on the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams, but it also opens an exciting new chapter when the unit re-forms on the F-35B.
The RAF’s first frontline Lightning (the UK doesn’t follow Lockheed Martin in having II after the name) squadron is currently working up at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina in preparation for moving to its permanent home at RAF Marham in Norfolk later this year. Overseeing this process is Wg Cdr John Butcher, Officer Commanding (OC) 617 Sqn who told Aviation News: “The reason for being out in the States is to train on the F-35 and to gain suitable experience and qualifications on engineering the jet. We are in a very good position to form the squadron at RAF Marham this year.”
Preparing the pilots, engineers and the large mission support flight to become operational is progressing well. The latter includes ground liaison officers and intelligence officers who assist in a great deal of pre-mission planning.
MCAS Beaufort was chosen because US Marine Corps Lightning training takes place there and 617 Sqn is working up under the F-35B training unit VMFAT-501. A deal was struck enabling this US air arm, the RAF and Royal Navy to work together, sharing each country’s aircraft. The ‘pooling implementation agreement’ will continue until summer 2019 when 207 Sqn (the UK’s F-35 operational conversion unit) will re-form and move to Marham where it will autonomously train UK personnel.
The OC has previously been involved in the Lightning programme. He worked for two years in the F-35 Joint Program Office in Washington, on secondment from Defence Equipment and Support, looking at UK requirements for the aircraft. He was also Chief of Staff in the Lightning Force HQ, within 1 Group, and then moved to Beaufort last August. He also has experience of another short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft, having been a qualified flying instructor on the Harrier. During his time with the Harrier he flew off the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, and later operated from the US Navy’s USS Ronald Reagan, and John C Stennis while on an exchange tour flying the Hornet with the US Marine Corps. This carrier experience will prove useful because the UK’s F-35s will form the core element of the Britain’s carrier strike capability from HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales.

Photo credit: DVIDS/Cpl Benjamin McDonald

For the full article see the May 2018 issue.

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