Three Air Force F-35s Make Historic Transatlantic Flight

Popular Mechanics // July 01, 2016

The U.S. Air Force made its first Atlantic crossing with the F-35A—the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant of the Lightning II used by the USAF—on Thursday June 30.

"It's a milestone," said Major Will Andreotta, the F-35A Lightning II Heritage Flight team commander, upon landing his fighter at RAF Fairford. "It really is an honor to be a part of it. A lot of people have never seen this aircraft. They have read about it, both positive and negative things, and this is our chance to bring the F-35 to the people for the first time."

During the transatlantic flight, each of the three F-35A's received seven aerial refuelings—three from a KC-135 Stratotanker that turned around to head back to the United States, and four from a KC-10 Extender that accompanied the fighters all the way to England (see above). Even though the F-35A holds 18,000 pounds of fuel—the aircraft will be used to penetrate deep into enemy territory undetected once it enters service—the Air Force makes sure that during an ocean crossing, each of the fighters is constantly topped up so that in the event of a malfunction, either in one of the fighters or in the tanker, each aircraft has enough fuel to get to an airport for an emergency landing.

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