RAF issues fascinating photos of the history of the world's first air force as it celebrates its centenary
- 100 years ago today the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service merged to create the Royal Air Force
- A selection of pictures, marking the one hundredth anniversary of the Royal Air Force, have been released
- From Spitfire dog fights above London to daring Dambuster raids in the depths of Nazi-occupied Germany
- Witness the highs, the lows and the heroism of the airmen that defended Britain's interests in times of crisis
British pilots learning to fly F-35 fighter jet which absorbs radar, flies backwards
These photos show how British pilots are putting a £100million fighter jet through its paces ahead of its first appearance in British skies this summer.
The first of the UK's F-35s – dubbed the Lightning II by maker Lockheed Martin – are at a giant military airfield in Florida’s Panhandle region, where pilots are practicing flying them backwards, stopping them in mid-air and reaching top speeds of 1.6 times the speed of sound.
The Daily Mail was invited for an exclusive, behind-the-scenes visit at the Eglin Air Force Base to find out how the first three British flyers and their 13 engineers are learning how to operate the F-35, which is recognisable by its sharp-angled design and special coating which makes it hard for enemy radars to detect.
Flying into the future: A pilot sits in the cockpit of the new F-35 combat aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Its first British appearance is expected this summer
Futuristic: The model is designed to take-off and land vertically like its predecessor, the Harrier jump jet - but can also fly backwards for the first time
The Ministry of Defence and manufacturers are negotiating its first British appearance, where it is set to fly as part of the Farnborough air show in Hampshire and the Royal International Air Tattoo in Gloucestershire.
Although a US Air Force base, Eglin in Florida also hosts a detachment of British servicemen who are learning to fly and maintain the ‘B’ version of the F-35, 138 of which are destined for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. This model is designed to take off and land vertically, like the Harrier jump jet, but can also fly backwards and land on the deck of aircraft carriers, including the two new Queen Elizabeth class ships being built for Britain’s Royal Navy. It can fly at Mach 1.6 – faster than the speed of sound – and has a range of more than 1,000 miles. Three of the F-35Bs at Eglin are already on the UK’s military aircraft register and have to be flown according to British rules and regulations.
British flyers and maintainers from both the RAF and Royal Navy are already embedded with the US Marines’ VMFAT-501 Squadron at Eglin.
Facts and figures: The new aircraft has been criticised for its £100m per jet cost, but it is also set to be the most advanced ever flown by the Royal Air Force
Revving up: The jet in test flights over the U.S. in 2011. It is set to come into service in Britain from 2018 and will be first be used by 617 Squadron - the Dambusters
In scenes reminiscent of the 1980s movie Top Gun, Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Ian Tidball, 44, is one of the British aces putting an F-35 through its paces.
The former Sea Harrier pilot from Somerset, who has also flown the Boeing F/A-18 fighter bomber on exchange posting, describes the F-35 as a ‘step change’ from the other aircraft he has piloted.
BIG BOYS' TOY: SOME OF THE F-35'S MOST IMPRESSIVE SPECIFICATIONS
‘It really does make flying the aeroplane very easy. While the Sea Harrier was very good, it was a stick and rudder aircraft and a lot of time was spent just flying the aeroplane.’
When hovering, the F-35B’s engine swivels round to direct thrust downwards and a hinged flap on top of the aircraft lifts up, similar doors opening on the underside, to direct the blast from its unique Rolls-Royce lift fan.
The F-35 effectively sits on two columns of air as it is suspended like the Cold War-era Harrier.
Unlike the Harrier, which needed the pilot to juggle three cockpit controls to keep it steady in the hover, the F-35’s computerised flight controls allow the jet to be manipulated using just the throttle and joystick.
Tidball says: ‘With the F-35 there’s more time to operate the mission systems and there is a vast array of capability. The stealth capability is the other huge asset.’
Inside the cockpit is dominated by a giant flat screen that is touch-sensitive, making it intuitive to use for the iPad generation of pilots who will eventually go on to fly the aircraft in combat zones around the world. Many of the functions can also be activated by the pilot’s voice.
The F-35’s stealth or ‘low observable’ nature comes both from its sharp angled design and the special coatings on its body that help it to almost disappear from enemy radar screens.
Another hi-tech feature is the inclusion of six miniature cameras which look outside the aircraft and can check for threats like enemy missiles.
Feat of engineering: The jet is introduced by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond in 2012. The RAF says it will be by the far the most advanced it has ever flown
Sunrise on a new era: The jets can take off and land vertically and even fly backwards - but our reporter found a simulator remarkably easy to use
Night flying: The jet is equipped with advanced cameras which allows it to fly at supersonic speeds and carry out complex missions in total darkness
Precision: The jet is so well-engineered that it takes away some of the pure joy of flying - or in layman's terms, flying by the seat of one's pants
The information these cameras gather can be projected inside the visor of the pilot’s helmet or beamed to other jets in the formation, or commanders on the ground. The helmet also allows the pilot to see ‘through’ the aircraft’s structure to the ground below.
The one downside of all this technology is that pilots joke it removes some of the fun of pure handling skills – in aviation parlance, flying by the seat of your pants.
OUR REPORTER TRIES THE SIMULATOR FOR HIMSELFThanks to some top flight instruction from Lockheed Martin’s test pilots I was able to sample the F-35 simulator for myself at the US defence giant’s Fort Worth factory.
Anyone used to operating an iPad or similar tablet would instantly feel at home in the cockpit. The massive touch screen display controls everything from radar and cameras to engine instruments.
Falling to hand are a massive joystick and throttle, each covered in dozens of buttons to handle every aspect of flight, ensuring the pilot barely need move his hands from the controls.
Inside the helmet information on altitude, heading and speed is projected, along with symbols to show enemy aircraft and missiles.
It really was easy to fly the F-35 thanks to a single button control which puts it into the classic Harrier-style hover.
And flying aerobatics in the stealth fighter felt just like playing a computer game – without the G forces that pilots in the real jet experience, of course.
Group Captain Willy Hackett, a veteran combat pilot who is the UK’s national deputy in the F-35 Joint Program Office, says: ‘I would have a large smile on my face to see the F-35 on the ramp as I walked out to the aircraft. It has to instil confidence in the pilot.’
He adds: ‘Our F-35 pilots will be some of our best educated people on the battlefield. The future F-35 pilots will be very much more systems operators and tacticians now, controlling the inflow of information. The actual flying is second nature.’
On arriving at Eglin, the British personnel complete in-depth academic courses and train in simulators before going on to an introductory 10-hour course to get them used to the F-35. As there is no two-seater jet, unlike previous generations of aircraft, the first time they take off in the aircraft will be the first time they fly it for real.
They then practice take-offs and landings and flying in formation with other aircraft before moving on to air-to-air fighting and attacking ground targets.
There is an equally steep learning curve for the engineers and technicians on F-35.
Sergeant Ken Dorfard, one of the maintainers hand-picked to be the first to go through F-35 training, explains the stealth aircraft has some unique challenges for his people, who must maintain its complex systems.
Dorfard, who joined the RAF in 1991, says: ‘We have special shoes to walk on the aircraft so we don’t damage the surface. The stuff behind the panels is easier to work on thanks to computerisation, but it is harder to access. It’s not that different to a fourth generation jet like the Tornado or Harrier. In some ways the electronic testing takes the fun out of it.’
One of the biggest differences between F-35 and previous fighters is the sheer scale of the computer programming involved. Some eight million lines of computer coding is involved and much of the aircraft’s capabilities depend on this technology being completed on time and working.
‘It is a challenging aspect of the programme,’ says Lockheed Martin’s Mike Rein.
The aircraft’s software will be continually updated during its 50-plus year lifespan.
Once the development work is completed Britain could buy fewer than the 138 aircraft it originally signed up for. With a price tag of up to £100m per jet, the F-35 has attracted some controversy at a time of widespread cuts in defence spending.
But the RAF and Royal Navy are adamant it will be a game-changing aeroplane that will increase British forces’ capabilities on the future battlefield.
The RAF’s famous 617 Squadron – the Dambusters – will be the first British unit to get the F-35 and will be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk from 2018. The squadron was temporarily stood down at the end of March when its Tornado bombers were retired.
Testing: An F-35 aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier last summer. Combat pilot Willy Hackett said it will be controlled by 'some of the most educated people on the battlefield'
Take-off: An F-35 performs a short take-off and vertical landing operation aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier. British pilots are learning how to fly the jets in Florida
Stealth: With a coating of radar-absorbent paint composites, the jet will be used to carry out stealth missions and reconnaissance
HMS Queen Elizabeth in all her glory: Astonishing graphic shows the decks of new 65,000-ton Royal Navy warship that will be as long as TWENTY EIGHT London buses and can carry 2,300 crew
When they are finally finished, the massive 65,000-ton HMS Queen Elizabeth and its twin, the HMS Prince of Wales, will be the centrepieces of Britain's naval warfare capability.
At around 920ft long - equivalent to 28 London buses parked end-to-end - the aircraft carriers are the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy. They will be about three times bigger than the UK's previous carriers.
However the project has been beset by embarrassing difficulties and delays, including mounting costs, and switches in the type of jet it will be home to. The ships will also carry only helicopters until 2020 when F35 Joint Strike Fighters will finally be available.
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POWER LAID BARE: INSIDE THE HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH - THE NAVY'S LARGEST EVER WARSHIP
Work in progress: The HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier will be around 290 metres long which is the equivalent to 28 London buses parked end-to-end
Six shipyards around the UK, including Rosyth Docks in Scotland, pictured, have been involved in building various parts of HMS Queen Elizabeth, while around 10,000 people have worked on the construction at various stages
Work continues on building the estimated £6.2billion HMS Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier at Rosyth Docks in Scotland ahead of its official unveiling this summer
21st century warfare: When they are finally finished, the massive 65,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth and its twin, the HMS Prince of Wales, will be the centrepieces of Britain's naval warfare capability
Workmen watch as a large panel is carefully and strategically moved into place on HMS Queen Elizabeth. There is just 100 days to go until a formal ceremony will officially name the aircraft carrier
The aircraft carriers are the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy - equivalent to 28 London buses parked end-to-end
Unveiled: Massive HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier
The ships are so vast that engineers putting it together have had to develop a unique mobile phone app to help them find their way around its vast decks.Experts at BAE Systems working on the carriers have created the app - called Platform Navigation - to assist them in finding their way around the unprecedented scale and complexity of the ships, where even routine journeys can take up to 20 minutes.
Now with just 100 days to go until the formal ceremony to name HMS Queen Elizabeth, excitement is building up to this 'major milestone' in the construction of the Navy's new carriers. The naming of the warship will come five years after the first metal was cut on the vessel and 33 months after the first section entered the dry dock at Rosyth to begin being put together.
Ian Booth, Queen Elizabeth Class programme director at the Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA), said: 'The excitement around the naming of HMS Queen Elizabeth continues to grow and the daily countdown will undoubtedly add further momentum to this.
'We’re working hard to prepare the ship and plan the celebrations which will mark this significant phase in the programme to deliver the nation’s flagships.'
Workers at work in the hanger of HMS Queen Elizabeth at Rosyth Docks. Those behind the project, which costs an estimated £6.2billion overall, say the QE Class will be the centrepiece of Britain's naval capability
Floating airfields: At around 290 metres long - equivalent to 28 London buses end-to-end - the carriers are the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy - about three times bigger than the UK's previous carriers
Deadline: Now with just 100 days to go until the formal ceremony to name HMS Queen Elizabeth, excitement is building up to this 'major milestone' in the construction of the Navy's new carriers
Workers hard at work in the hanger of HMS Queen Elizabeth at Rosyth Docks. The Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers are are being delivered by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, a joint venture between BAE Systems, Thales UK, Babcock and the UK Ministry of Defence
A long job: The naming of the warship will come five years after the first metal was cut on the vessel and 33 months after the first section entered the drydock at Rosyth to begin being put together
HMS Queen Elizabeth is now structurally complete at Rosyth, although outfitting work is continuing in the run up to the naming ceremony and the ship’s subsequent introduction to the water.
Work is continuing on sections of the sister ship at sites across the UK, with assembly of HMS Prince of Wales set to begin at Rosyth later this year.
Those behind the project, which costs an estimated £6.2billion overall, say the QE Class will be the centrepiece of Britain’s naval capability.
Each aircraft carrier will provide the armed forces with a four-acre military operating base which can be deployed worldwide on operations, such as supporting dropping bombs on enemies or providing air cover for Army operations.
Speaking at Rosyth, senior naval officer Captain Simon Petitt said: 'What we will get as the United Kingdom is the most amazing piece of military capability that really will be flexible and be able to provide our politicians and our military planners with choice, depending on what comes in the future.
A workman crosses the take off ramp on the deck as work continues on the HMS Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier at Rosyth Docks in Scotland. The assembly of HMS Prince of Wales is set to begin at Rosyth later this year
Fearsome: Each aircraft carrier will provide the armed forces with a four-acre military operating base which can be deployed worldwide on operations, such as dropping bombs or providing air support for ground troops
Work in progress: Six shipyards around the UK have been involved in building various parts of HMS Queen Elizabeth, while around 10,000 people have worked on the construction at various stages
'They provide a real joint defence asset to deliver air power using the freedom of the world’s oceans to influence what happens on land.'
Reflecting on the construction work carried out to this point, he added: 'It’s just fantastic. I arrived here over a year ago and there was one relatively small block in the dock.
'The ship now is structurally complete and it’s been really exciting watching her come together. My crew are just as excited and proud as I am.'
Each ship, which has a life expectancy of around 50 years, will be fitted out with more than three million metres of cable and it will have enough power to light up a small town.
Six shipyards around the UK have been involved in building various parts of HMS Queen Elizabeth, while around 10,000 people have worked on the construction at various stages.
BAE Systems Phil Applegate, right, uses the Unique QR system for navigating his way around HMS Queen Elizabeth which is currently based at Rosyth Docks in Scotland, left
An artist's impression of how the Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will look once it is completed
The ships are so vast that engineers putting it together have had to develop a unique mobile phone app to help them find their way around its vast decks
A welder works on HMS Queen Elizabeth which will be fitted out with more than three million metres of cable and will have enough power to light up a small town
Bosses believe the ship - which will have 679 permanent crew and capacity for 1,600 crew members when fully operational - will see staff move on board in the middle of 2016 and have jets flying off it by the end of 2018.
The Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers are are being delivered by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, a joint venture between BAE Systems, Thales UK, Babcock and the UK Ministry of Defence.
Project manager Steven Carroll, the systems delivery director for the Alliance, said: 'It’s a huge undertaking, a UK-wide national endeavour involving up to 10,000 people, including multiple companies within the alliance and the supply chain.
'It really has been a long journey, a fantastic journey, to get to this point and there is a lot more work to be done as we get ready for the second ship, Prince of Wales.'