HISTORY was made when a group of the RAF’s new stealth jets touched down on Britain’s aircraft carrier for the first time.
In a momentous landing, the four F-35B Lightning fighter jets lowered themselves onto the huge flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The mighty £100m warplanes – the most advanced jets in the world – flew from RAF Marham to Naval Station Jacksonville in Florida before later landing vertically on Queen Elizabeth.
The news signalled the next phase in Britain’s multi-billion pound ambition to create a new naval strike group capable of deploying to war zones anywhere in the world.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘The Lightning aircraft operates with a cutting-edge design. It is the first jet to combine radar-evading stealth technology with supersonic speed, as well as the ability to land vertically.
‘Given its ability to conduct missions both from land and sea, the jets act as a formidable spine to the carrier strike capability.’
The jets, built by American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, are expected to remain on the 65,000-tonne warship for at least a month as the vessel continues her second phase of tests off the east coast of America.
RAF Wing Commander Adam Curd, the first to land on the Portsmouth-based warship, said it was ‘quite something’ to touch down on Queen Elizabeth.
‘This is a proud moment not only for me, but the wider team that has brought us to this milestone for maritime aviation and UK defence,’ he added.
The jets will spend their first week exhaustively practising landing and take-off drills before moving onto more complex manoeuvres, working alongside Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon and sub-hunter HMS Northumberland
Adam Clink, a former Harrier pilot for the Royal Navy for 26 years, played a pivotal role at navy command on Whale Island in developing the project before joining Lockheed Martin UK as head of carrier enabled power projection nine months ago.
The ‘proud’ 46-year-old said: ‘We’re going to have a capability that will make the world sit up and take notice.
‘The effort and number of people, blood, sweat and tears and intellect gone into getting us where we are today is absolutely phenomenal.’
Parts of the jet are being developed by experts at Lockheed Martin’s base in Havant.
Mr Clink added the team of ‘fiercely intelligent’ workers at the HQ would be key in the project’s future, which will be supported by defence firms across Hampshire and the UK.
He said: ‘There’s a massive opportunity for Havant employees at Lockheed Martin to support this UK endeavour.’
The UK currently owns 18 aircraft, with an additional order placed for 30 jets. Britain eventually aims to have 138 F-35s.
Queen Elizabeth’s first deployment in 2021 is expected to be supported by a squadron of US Marine Corps F-35s.