BRITISH F-35 stealth fighter jets have flown on operational missions for the first time as they joined efforts to eradicate Islamic State, the Defence Secretary has announced.
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt visited RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus on Monday where six of the aircraft have been based since arriving for a six-week training deployment in May.
Since June 16 the cutting-edge warplanes have flown on more than 14 sorties above the skies of Iraq and Syria as part of the ongoing hunt for the last remnants of the extremist group.
Speaking to reporters after sitting in the cockpit of the one of jets, Ms Mordaunt said: ‘I am very proud that these are now flying in defence and in projecting the UK's national interest.
‘This is a fantastic new aircraft, it is amazing, it's doing so well out here on these operations... it's a really historic moment.’
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Describing the inside of the jet, as she revealed she has previously sat inside other aircraft types, Ms Mordaunt said it is ‘cleaner, without giving too much away’.
The Defence Secretary, a Royal Navy reservist, added: ‘It obviously has some incredible capabilities which are really putting us in the lead.’
The jets were deployed to Cyprus, where British Eurofighter Typhoons are also stationed, on Exercise Lightning Dawn, the first overseas deployment for the RAF F-35s which was designed to allow pilots and engineers to gain experience in maintaining and flying the aircraft in an unfamiliar environment.
In the past four weeks the jets have flown in pairs for more than 225 hours, just over 30% of their total flying hours in the last year, and carried out 95 missions before joining Operation Shader, the name given to the UK's contribution in the ongoing military action against IS.
No bombs have been dropped or missiles fired by the F-35s during their operational missions, which involved armed reconnaissance.
Britain's jets are jointly operated by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy and will take off from the decks of the new £3.1 billion Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier in the Autumn for more testing.