Return of the Immortals sees second F-35 Lightning Squadron join the frontline

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Personnel from RAF Marham on parade for the 809 Naval Air Squadron Recommissioning Ceremony. Photographer: Cpl Ben Mayfield RAF - UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023 - News / Editorial Licence.

A second frontline F-35B Lightning stealth fighter squadron has been stood up at RAF Marham.

809 Naval Air Squadron, known as the Immortals, has a long and distinguished history and has been recommissioned as the nation’s second front-line fighter unit operating the F-35B Lightning stealth fighter.

At the parade at RAF Marham, Norfolk, Commander Nick Smith formally received the Squadron Crest from his predecessor, Cdr (Ret’d) Tim Gedge, close to 41 years to the day since 809 NAS decommissioned as a Sea Harrier squadron.

Personnel from RAF Marham march past Air Marshal Harvey Smyth and Vice Admiral Martin Connell during the 809 Naval Air Squadron Recommissioning Ceremony.Photographer: Cpl Ben Mayfield RAF UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023 – MOD Crown Copyright News / Editorial Licence.

In common with the Sea Harrier, the B variant of Lightning is equally at home operating on land or from the decks of Royal Navy aircraft carriers.

Vice Admiral Martin Connell, Second Sea Lord said:

“809 Naval Air Squadron has a proud heritage and it is therefore entirely fitting that our nation’s most capable F-35 combat air force now has a second RN/RAF front line squadron which carries the ‘Immortals’ name into this modern era as we continue to expand our global carrier strike capability.”

An F-35B Lightning Jet from 809 Naval Air Squadron sits in the Maintenance and Finishing Facility (M&FF) paint bay with its new markings in dedication of the standing up of the Squadron.Photographer: AS1 NATALIE ADAMS RAF UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023 – MOD Crown Copyright News / Editorial Licence.

Air Marshal Harv Smyth, Air & Space Commander said:

“On behalf of the RAF and our Combat Air Force, it is simply superb to see 809 Squadron stand-up, continuing our endeavours to grow the Lightning Force. I know from my time on Joint Force Harrier and multiple tours in the Lightning enterprise, that when the RAF and RN operate together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And when equipped with Lightning, it makes for an unbeatable combination for the Combat Air Force, capable of delivering next generation air power from land and sea.”

Of the more than 100 historic Fleet Air Arm units whose numbers are currently dormant, 809 was selected more than a decade ago as a F-35 Lightning formation, largely due to its illustrious history as a strike and attack squadron having received battle honours from operations in the Arctic, Mediterranean, Burma, Suez and South Atlantic over a 41-year period. 

Commander Nick Smith, Commanding Officer 809 NAS said:

“It is an honour and privilege to be afforded the opportunity to command 809 NAS and lead the workup to Full Operational Capability. The Squadron has a rich history of Royal Navy / Royal Air Force integration from the days of operating the Blackburn Buccaneer at RAF Lossiemouth in the 1960’s and 1970’s, to the Falklands Conflict in 1982 and this is set to endure well into the future. 

“The latest re-incarnation of “Phoenix Squadron” will see this joint service approach deliver a world-leading 5th Generation combat air capability, deployable from both land and sea.”

The recommissioning sees the number of UK squadrons operating the Lightning expand to four, 809 joining 617 Dambusters Sqn, 207 Sqn (Operational Conversion Unit) and 17 Test and Evaluation Sqn. All are operated by both RAF and RN personnel and the commanding officer and senior pilot also alternate between the two Services.

The F-35 Programme is the world’s largest single defence programme and the UK has played a major role from the outset, delivering significant prosperity to UK industry. Lightning has now become the fighter aircraft of choice for NATO Partners which enhances interoperability across the Alliance.

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