Royal Air Force Sqn Ldr Jim Schofield has flown the UK's first Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II to Eglin AFB, Florida, where it will join an initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) fleet of Joint Strike Fighters.
The UK's lead military test pilot on the F-35 programme, Schofield flew aircraft BK-1 - now carrying the service registration ZM135 - from Fort Worth in Texas to the Florida base. Conducted on 23 July, the ferry flight lasted 90min, Lockheed says.
One of three short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs ordered by the UK so far, the aircraft will be involved in US-based IOT&E activities for the next several years. Lockheed delivered the asset to its lead international partner for the JSF on 19 July, with its acceptance having been overseen by defence secretary Philip Hammond.
The UK expects to commence land-based operations with its new stealthy strike aircraft in 2018, most likely from RAF Marham in Norfolk, before commencing carrier-based activities around 2020. A decision on how many production F-35Bs to acquire will be taken as part of the nation's next Strategic Defence and Security Review, due to be conducted in 2015. It has previously outlined a requirement for up to 138 of the type.