British F-35B Not Yet Ready for Transatlantic Crossing

Amy Butler and Tony Osborne

WASHINGTON and LONDON – The transatlantic crossing of the F-35B for its international air show debut is on hold, as one of the four Lockheed Martin fighters due to make the trip remains on the ground at Eglin AFB, Florida.

The other three F-35Bs have arrived at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, the departure point for their historic Atlantic crossing to the United Kingdom. All four F-35Bs are due at RAF Fairford in England the week of July 7 at the latest to allow pilots time for verification flights for their displays at the Royal International Tattoo and Farnborough air show this month.

But the fourth F-35B — and perhaps most notable as it is the single British jet slated for the shows — is still on the ground at Eglin following an F-35A fire last week. U.K. defense officials have not yet replied to queries as to why the jet has not transited to Patuxent River.

Because of a 36-hr. turnaround time on the ground at Patuxent River upon arrival from Eglin, it is looking increasingly unlikely that the F-35B will make an appearance at the naming ceremony for the HMS Queen Elizabeth on July 4 in the U.K. Though the ceremony is not on the official F-35B schedule, program officials had hoped to arrive in time to conduct a flyover, as this class of ship will eventually host the single-engine, stealthy fighters to re-build the U.K.’s carrier strike capability.

Meanwhile, officials announced June 30 that the last flying de Havilland Sea Vixen — a 1950s-era, carrier-based U.K. fighter — will perform a flyover at the new carrier’s naming ceremony. Planners have shifted from one extreme to the other; they once hoped to showcase the future of British carrier aviation but are now settling for a nod to the past.

The U.S. Marine Corps flew three of their operational F-35Bs from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma to Patuxent River June 27 to prepare for the Atlantic crossing. “The Marine Corps will resume F-35B flight operations today. We are continuing with our plans to deploy to the U.K. next month,” Capt. Rich Ulsh said last week.

Ulsh did not say whether any other F-35B flight operations have resumed since a fire broke out at the aft end of an F-35A on takeoff from Eglin June 23.

Investigators continue to explore the cause of the fire; Air Force F-35As and Navy F-35Cs continue to be on a “safety hold” from flight ordered by local commanders. Program officials continue to say this is not a full grounding of the fighter.

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