The UK has stood up its second frontline squadron to operate the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II: the Royal Navy’s (RN’s) 809 NAS.

Formally established on 8 December at the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) Marham base in Norfolk, the unit follows the RAF’s 617 Sqn in fielding the short take-off and vertical landing type.

809 NAS F-35B

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Royal Navy’s 809 NAS is the UK’s second frontline unit now flying the F-35B

Nicknamed ‘The Immortals’, the Fleet Air Arm’s 809 NAS returns after a gap of more than 40 years, having been disbanded in late 1982, following its participation in the Falklands War. It was at that time equipped with British Aerospace Sea Harrier FRS1 carrier-borne fighters, and before that the Blackburn Buccaneer.

“The latest re-incarnation of ‘Phoenix Squadron’ will see this joint service approach deliver a world-leading fifth-generation combat air capability, deployable from both land and sea,” says 809 NAS commanding officer Commander Nick Smith.

“When the RAF and RN operate together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” notes the RAF’s Air & Space Commander, Air Marshal Harvey Smyth. “When equipped with the Lightning, it makes for an unbeatable combination for the Combat Air Force.”

F-35Bs are also employed by the RAF’s 207 Sqn operational conversion unit and 17 Test and Evaluation Sqn. Cirium fleets data shows that the UK has 32 of the type in active service, with another two on order and a lone example having been written off in an accident at sea. It also has options on up to another 103 F-35s.

F-35B 809 NAS tail

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Fleet Air Arm unit is nicknamed ‘The Immortals’

“Whether operating from its main base at RAF Marham, deployed operating bases, or embarked on the [RN’s] Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, the F-35 continues to deliver a cutting-edge 21st Century expeditionary capability for the UK and its allies from both land and sea,” Lockheed says.