Thirteen years after full-scale development began, the Lockheed Martin F-35 will make its international debut at the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough air show in July, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced on 16 April.

Lockheed Martin confirms that the short take-off and vertical landing F-35B is the variant selected to support the two shows in the UK, where the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy plan to operate 138 of the aircraft.

The debut appearance in Fairford and Farnborough also is a nod to the programme’s deep links with UK suppliers, which build 15% of every F-35, including the aft fuselage assembled by BAE Systems, according to the MOD.

The UK invested $2 billion in the F-35 system development and demonstration phase when Lockheed was awarded the contract in 2001, ranking only behind the USA among the eight national partners in the development programme.

“We are the only country that is a first tier partner in the project, which is sustaining tens of thousands of jobs in the UK,” says Defence Secretary Philip Hammond in a statement.

The appearance also represents a logistical challenge for the F-35 flight test team. More than seven years and 15,200 flight hours after first flight in December 2006, the F-35 still has not crossed an ocean.

But the programme has been preparing for the extended trip across the Atlantic. On 25 February, a joint sortie by AF-6 and BF-18 – F-35A and B models, respectively – completed a 5.7h mission.

The nature of the F-35 flying display in the UK has not been announced, but the test team appears to be prepared despite the aircraft remaining at least . In March, an F-35B performed a full aerial display at the MCAS Yuma, Arizona, Air Show, featuring several high-speed passes in normal mode and low-speed passes in STOVL configuration.

In the final pass, the F-35B slowed to a hover about 100m over the runway, pivoted about 45 degrees, and then accelerated to make a final turn and land in normal mode.