First RAF pilot flies Joint Strike Fighter
9 Feb 10
A Royal Air Force officer has become the first UK pilot to take to the skies in a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, known in the UK as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
Squadron Leader Steve Long in the cockpit of a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
[Picture: David Drais, Copyright Lockheed Martin 2010]
Squadron Leader Steve Long flew at 20,000 feet (6,000m) over Naval Air Station Patuxent River, a tributary of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, USA, where he has been based with VX-23 US Navy Air Test and Evaluation Squadron since May 2008.
The aircraft is equipped with the most powerful and comprehensive sensor suite of any fighter in history. It is a fifth-generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations, advanced sustainment, and lower operational and support costs.
Due to take over front line duties from aircraft including the Harrier, the JSF will, along with the Typhoon, make up the backbone of Britain's UK fast jet capability.
Squadron Leader Long said:
"Flying the JSF was exactly like the simulators that I've been flying for over 18 months now, which gives you a lot of confidence in all the modelling and simulation work that has been done in all the other areas of flying.
"This aircraft gives the RAF and Navy a quantum leap in airborne capability. A pilot in this aircraft will have an unprecedented level of situational awareness about what's going on in the airspace and on the battlefield or ocean below because of its highly advanced sensors. This aircraft will plug into coalition battlefield networks and be able to pass that picture on to all other players."
Squadron Leader Long, aged 38, from Ifold near Guildford in West Sussex, joined the RAF in 1995. His operational experience has included more than 100 sorties over Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Iraq, including three months aboard HMS Illustrious and seven months on the USS Bonhomme Richard.
Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, Quentin Davies, said:
"This is an exciting moment for us all. Steve is a very lucky man. He is the first of many generations of RAF pilots, selected and trained to the highest standards, who will be flying this aircraft over the next 30 years, providing this country with the very best available capability in combat strike."
With the capability to operate from a variety of ships or austere runways, the JSF can deploy closer to shore or near front lines, shrinking distance and time to the target, increasing sortie rates and greatly reducing the need for support assets.