Britain’s multimillion pound F-35 stealth fighter jets have touched down on UK soil.
The supersonic warplanes have been in the US since they were manufactured, where they were being tested and used for training by Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots.
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Four of the jets, which had been based at US Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, crossed the Atlantic to land at RAF Marham in Norfolk.
The jets arrived two months ahead of schedule at about 8pm on Wednesday night.
Wing Commander John Butcher, who was the first to land, said it was a pleasant flight across the US, adding: “The weather was in our favour and it felt absolutely brilliant bringing the jets back here.
“This is probably the biggest moment in my RAF career to date.”
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “These formidable fighters are a national statement of our intent to protect ourselves and our allies from intensifying threats across the world.
“With a game-changing ability to collect crucial intelligence, fight wars and tackle terrorism, these are the most advanced jets in British history.
“The work that’s gone into their early arrival shows they have the people to match.
“Our defence industry and military have always been at the very forefront of technology, and the momentous arrival of these incredible jets shows we are upholding our proud tradition of innovation while keeping Britain safe from the gravest of dangers.”
The four pilots, who were supported by an RAF voyager providing air-to-air refuelling across more than 3,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean, were greeted by Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier and other dignitaries.
ACM Hillier said: “In the RAF’s centenary year, it’s great to see the most advanced and dynamic fighter jet in our history arrive today at RAF Marham – and with the modern Dambusters in the cockpit, this homecoming truly feels like an historic moment in British airpower.
“If you can’t see us coming, you won’t be able to stop us, so with its stealth and other world-beating technologies the F-35 Lightning takes the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy to a whole a new level of capability.”
The jets will be jointly operated by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy and will operate from land and sea, including off the decks of the new £3.1bn Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.
Britain currently has 15 F-35Bs – the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the jets – and has pledged to purchase 138 in total from American aviation giant Lockheed Martin.