The new F-35 fighter jet: Here's everything you need to know

The 1,200 mph jets are set to arrive in the UK in June.

The new multimillion pound stealth fighter jet, the F-35 Lightning II, is a “pleasure” to fly, according to the UK's lead test pilot. But it's also an eminently capable aircraft.

We've rounded up all the information that you need to know about this super plane.

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What is the F-35?

The F-35 is the world’s largest defence programme. It has participation from 10 countries, including the UK, and is led by the United States. It creates attack aircraft that can operate from land and sea. Currently there are more than 200 jets flying, clocking in 110,000 flight hours.

However, F-35 is also used to describe the aircraft it produces – F-35A, F-35B and F-35C. The F-35A is the conventional take off and landing version, the F-35B is the short take off and vertical landing model, while the F-35C has larger wings and a more robust landing gear, making it suitable for catapult launches and fly-in encounters aboard aircraft carriers.

The US Air Force has the most F-35 planes out of all the countries involved.

What can the F-35 do?


The F-35 bombers travel at speeds of Mach 1.6 (1,119 mph), can carry a 15,000lb payload and have a flight range of 900 miles. They take off from a ‘ski jump’ ramp that’s six metres high, and are designed to withstand the same temperatures as a space shuttle.

One of the F-35s can land vertically and take off from very short distances.

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What technology does the F-35 have?

A lot! The F-35 will have the latest in military electronic technology including fully integrated radar warning, targeting support and self protection to detect and overcome both surface and airborne threats.

There are also computers in the cockpit powered by 8.6 million lines of code that provide information to the pilot in two touchscreen displays. The aircraft is powered using voice recognition, too. In fact, the F-35 is powered by more lines of code than it took to launch the Space Shuttle.

High-tech helmets worn by the F-35 pilots include a built-in screen which displays key information such as altitude and navigation, along with images from six infra-red cameras embedded in the skin of the aeroplane – these enable the pilot to see through the plane.

This is just some of the tech available on board.

F35 helmet

What’s it like to fly an F-35?

The UK’s lead test pilot, Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, described flying the jet as a “pleasure”.

“It is an incredibly, incredibly powerful aircraft and I am not talking about thrust, the capabilities it brings to the battle space – it is incredibly powerful,” he said.

[Read more: F-35 fighter jet: Flying the 1,200mph jet is a 'pleasure']

To have a look at what flying the F-35 will be like for the Royal Navy or Royal Air Force, watch the video below of an F35 flight simulator.

How many F-35s is the UK trying to buy?

The UK has a £9.1 billion programme to buy 48 of the F-35s over the next decade. In December 2017, the UK took delivery of its 14th F-35 to be tested in the United States ahead of flight trials off the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

F35 PA graphic

It has faced criticisms over its expensive cost.

The Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers

The brand new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers are the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy, and this is where the F-35s will fly from in the UK.

The vessels have capacity for 36 of the brand new F35-B Lightning II fighter jets, although only 14 have been ordered so far. The stealth bombers have vertical landing capabilities. Deck-landing trials will begin in 2018.


[Read more: The Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers: 14 amazing technical facts]

Where is the F-35 built?

All over the place. The F-35 is a global production line with factories in Cameri, Italy, Nagoya, Japan and Fort Worth, Texas. The rear section of every F-35 is built in Lancashire and in Adelaide, Australia.

F-35 Testing

Obviously testing is a huge part of the plane’s development and the video above shows it with its ski jump test launch.

Testing is done both in East Yorkshire, and also in the US.  

How much will F-35 be worth to the UK?

BAE Systems, a key partner in delivering the programme, estimates it will be worth around £1 billion to the UK industry when it reaches peak production. About 25,000 UK jobs are associated with the programme.

When will the F-35 jets comes to the UK?

On May 16, 2018, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed that the F-35 stealth fighter jets will start arriving at RAF Marham, Norfolk, early June.

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