PICTURES: RAF pilot flies F-35B for first time

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A Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter has for the first time been flown by a UK Royal Air Force pilot, with the milestone having advanced the work of the Integrated Test Force responsible for moving the type towards its introduction to service.

Sqn Ldr Steve Long flew aircraft BF-2 on a 1.3h sortie from the US Navy's Patuxent River site in Maryland on 26 January, on what was the aircraft's 18th test flight.

 
© Lockheed Martin

Currently on an exchange tour flying Boeing F/A-18D Hornets with the US Marine Corps, Long has previously flown the RAF's BAE Systems Harrier GR7 ground-attack aircraft. He is the third active-duty pilot to have flown an F-35, following officers from the US Air Force and the USMC.

"Flying the F-35 was exactly like the simulators that I've been flying for over 18 months," says Long, who describes the JSF as "a quantum leap in airborne capability because of the sensor suite it carries".

 
© Lockheed Martin
Long: BF-2 'flew exactly like the simulator'

The UK Ministry of Defence last December received approval to buy its third F-35B to be used during the initial operational test and evaluation phase of the US-led JSF programme.

"The UK is now preparing pilots and maintainers for initial training at Eglin [AFB, Florida] so that we can begin operating our aircraft in 2011, alongside our colleagues from the US Marine Corps," says Air Cdre Graham Farnell, team leader for the UK's Joint Combat Aircraft project.

Under current plans, the Royal Air Force and UK Royal Navy will field the F-35B as the successor to their joint fleet of Harrier GR9/9As.

The UK already has a major involvement in the development of the F-35B, with BAE's Graham Tomlinson as lead test pilot on the short take-off and vertical landing type.