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RAF F-35s Use Vertical Landing Facilities for the First Time

Purpose-built Vertical Landing Pads at RAF Marham


On 25 July, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) released imagery of RAF F-35B LIGHTNING II aircraft using vertical landing pads (VLP) specially constructed at RAF Marham for the first time.

To support Lockheed Martin‘s aircraft’s short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) capability, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation is building three VLPs at Marham. The Norfolk site is the Main Operating Base for the F-35 in the UK.

The F-35’s STOVL capability will provide operational flexibility including landing on the Royal Navy’s new QUEEN ELIZABETH-class aircraft carriers. Initial flight trials of the F-35 LIGHTNING II aircraft from HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH are on track for 2018, allowing a coherent build-up towards delivering a carrier strike capability for the UK from 2020.

Construction of the VLPs presented a significant engineering challenge. Due to standard concrete not being suitable, the design team had to source special materials from Germany to make a concrete which has the ability to withstand the high temperatures created by aircraft engines. Without this there would be a risk of cracking, which in turn could present significant risk to the aircraft. This was the first time this material has been used outside the USA and required a rigorous testing process to ensure the landing pads were fit for purpose.

Vertical landing is a really exciting military capability and from an infrastructure perspective it’s been fascinating to be involved in the design and construction process. It was really exciting and rewarding to see an F-35 landing on the first vertical landing pad to be finished and I look forward to seeing more as we continue to work on other infrastructure upgrades required for the F-35s,” observed DIO’s Project Manager for the VLPs, Lt.-Col. Ian Jenkins.

Each landing pad measures 67x67m, with a central landing area of 30.5×30.5m. Four F-35Bs arrived at their new home on 6 June this year, starting the build-up of the newly-reformed 617 Squadron in the UK. The successful first use of these new VLPs is another step closer towards successfully reaching Initial Operating Capability for the UK by the end of the year.


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