First full-British F-35B aerial refueling takes place over South Carolina


UK’s F-35B Lightning jets which will be operated by the Royal Navy and Air Force recently achieved another first in their preparation for operations in UK skies.

The Royal Navy has now shared photos of what it says is a first “full-British” aerial refueling of F-35B jets.

To travel 4,134-miles across the Atlantic Ocean from the US Marine Corps’ base at Beaufort in South Carolina to RAF Marham in East Anglia, where they will be stationed, the jets will have to take on fuel from aerial refueling tankers, more than once.

So the RAF dispatched one of its Voyager tankers from 10 Squadron at Brize Norton to Cecil Airport in Jacksonville, Florida, to practice refueling maneuvers by day and night with the jets over the USA’s east coast.

It’s not the first air-to-air refueling with the F-35Bs but it is the first crewed entirely by the RAF.

Two RN and two RAF Lightning IIs manouevred into position to take on fuel – inserting the nozzle of their fuel intake (the probe), into the funnel-shaped drogue which delivers that fuel.

The tanker – a modified Airbus 330 airliner – can pump as much as 132,000lb of fuel over a five hour mission, or enough fuel to fill an F-35B’s tank nine times.

The coming few months mark a key period in the rebirth of Britain’s carrier strike force. As well as 617 Sqn debuting at Marham, in the late summer HMS Queen Elizabeth will conduct her first trials with the new aircraft off the east coast of the USA.

Training on the multi-million pound jets will remain Stateside, but the UK’s front-line F-35 squadrons – firstly 617 Sqn RAF, later 809 NAS – will operate from Marham, each with mixed RN/RAF air and ground crew.