The first of Britain’s new F-35 Lightning fighter jets arrived in West Norfolk on Wednesday.

The Ministry of Defence is replacing its fleet of Tornado GR4s with the Lightnings, which are the latest next-generation, multi-role stealth aircraft, and the first four touched down at 8.15pm at RAF Marham.

Pilots from the newly-reformed 617 Squadron, immortalised by the famous Dambusters’ raid, flew the jets direct from the United States supported by RAF Voyager aircraft providing air-to-air refuelling.

Crowds gathered nearby to watch as the planes made their much-anticipated arrival and a gala reception greeted them on the base.

Dignitaries at the base for the arrival included the Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson; Defence Minister, Guto Bebb; the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier; and the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones.

Welcoming the jets, Mr Williamson said: “These formidable fighters are a national statement of our intent to protect ourselves and our allies from intensifying threats across the world.

“With a game-changing ability to collect crucial intelligence, fight wars and tackle terrorism, these are the most advanced jets in British history.”

A further five aircraft are scheduled to arrive before the end of the summer.

Around £550m has been invested in RAF Marham as the base gets ready to house the new planes, which has seen an upgrade in facilities, resurfaced runways and the addition of new landing pads to accommodate the jet’s ability to land vertically.

The base’s current Tornados will remain in use, serving alongside the Lightnings, until they are retired at the end of March next year.

Some Tornados have already been retired and are being used for engineers to practice on and for gunners at the RAF Regiment for defence training exercises.

Elizabeth Truss, MP for South West Norfolk, said the campaign to keep the RAF at Marham had paid dividends: “We should all be very proud – the jobs, skills and value to the local economy, in excess of £100 million, is tremendous and I am absolutely delighted that the RAF are in South West Norfolk.”

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