MCAS Beaufort --
The United Kingdom’s 617 Squadron began its transition from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort to the U.K. Jan. 25 when an A-400 Atlas departed Fightertown with large amounts of F-35B Lightning II equipment bound for the U.K.
Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel have been incorporated in Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 since their arrival in 2014. All U.K. personnel are scheduled to depart MCAS Beaufort for their homeland during 2018. When their move is complete, they will have moved approximately 200 U.K. personnel and 15 F-35B Lightning II to Royal Air Force Base Marham where they will be part of the 617 Squadron “Dambusters.”
“We started off doing a little bit of everything,” said Squadron Ldr. Hugh Nichols, the U.K. senior national representative with VMFAT-501. “From teaching the new pilots, which is our main focus, to generating a syllabus as we looked at new capabilities and roles the F-35 can fill, and how we can teach them to the new pilots.”
As the syllabus evolved and more U.K. personnel arrived, the American and British members of VMFAT-501 worked in unison so everyone could efficiently operate and maintain the F-35B. The U.K’s goal is to achieve initial operating capability in a land-based role for the F-35B in 2018 and aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier in 2020.
“The fact we could operate with VMFAT-501 for the last few years let us be ahead of the game when it came to developing our own capabilities on U.K. soil,” said Nichols. “We are making sure that the aircraft is maintained and the U.K. is able to develop its own engineering maintenance and air competency in order to independently operate the aircraft.”
While the departure of future 617 Squadron equipment signifies a historic milestone for the F-35B program, their expertise and professionalism will be missed throughout VMFAT-501.
“Working with the British has been seamless,” said Maj. Ross Fearon, the executive officer of VMFAT-501. “Since I arrived at this unit up to the time I became its XO, the British have been working side by side with us and conducted themselves with the upmost respect. I have enjoyed working with them and will miss them when they finish their transition to the U.K.”