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First UK F-35s transition home

By Cpl. Benjamin McDonald | Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort | June 7, 2018


The United Kingdom’s 617 Squadron “Dambusters” began transitioning their F-35B Lightning II from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort to Royal Air Force Base Marham, England June 6.  

The transition of their F-35Bs signifies the shift from current to next generation air combat power for the Dambusters.

Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel were incorporated in Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 even before the F-35s arrived to MCAS Beaufort in July of 2014. The beginning of the UK’s departure is another major landmark for VMFAT-501, 617 Squadron, and the F-35 program.

Today's flight represents a tremendous milestone in the strategic partnership between the USMC, Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force in the context of the 617 squadron's preparation towards F-35B full transition in the latter half of 2018. From the tactical perspective, the launch of four aircraft on a June morning could simply be viewed as normal operations here at MCAS Beaufort. What makes this day unique is it reflects the culmination of six years of detailed integration between the Marines and Sailors of VMFAT-501 and our UK partners that began in 2012 with the arrival of the first UK maintenance personnel, pilots, and aircraft.”

As the syllabus evolved and more UK personnel arrived, the American and British members of VMFAT-501 worked in unison so everyone could efficiently operate and maintain the F-35B. The UK’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.

“617 Squadron has worked tirelessly for the past few weeks and months to prepare the aircraft to bring them to their final home of RAF Marham,” said Ground Capt. Cab Townsend, RAF Marham Station Commander. “It is a brilliant time for 617 Squadron to return to RAF Marham as the RAF enters its 100th year representing a transition from current to next generation combat air power.”

While the departure of 617 Squadron is a major accomplishment for the F-35B program, their expertise and professionalism will be missed throughout VMFAT-501.

“Professionally speaking, the collaborative approach between our services in the conduct of daily organizational level maintenance and flight training has set the tone for future combined operations,” Said Levine. “On a personal level, I had the opportunity to once again work and fly with Officer Commanding 617 Squadron, Wing Commander John Butcher. Butch had served as an exchange officer at Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 flying the F/A-18 Hornet while I was the Training Officer. At the time, we worked closely together training the Marine Corp’s newest strike fighter pilots. Fast forward to 2018, the [VMFAT-501] Warlords, and the F-35B, Butch and I once again have the privilege of sharpening the blade for the next generation of Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, and Marine Corps Fighter pilots. I wish him and the Dambusters of 617 Squadron the best of luck as they begin to stand up in the UK. Simply put, the command is more effective in all aspects because of our UK partners.”