The first flight for the UK's first F-35, known as BK-1, took place on April 13, 2012. BK-1 is also the first international F-35. (Lockheed Martin)
WASHINGTON — The US Marine Corps will not be bringing an F-35B model to the naming ceremony of the HMS Queen Elizabeth in the United Kingdom, the service announced Thursday.
The F-35B, which is making its international debut at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) and the Farnborough International Airshow, starting July 9, was largely expected to make a “surprise” appearance at the ceremony, which will christen the UK’s latest carrier.
“The inclusion of F-35Bs in the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Naming Ceremony was explored, but neither the United States Marine Corps nor the UK Ministry of Defense confirmed or announced their participation,” Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Richard Ulsh said in a statement.
“The Marine Corps is still planning for its deployment to the UK in support of both the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough International Air Show.”
The participation of the F-35B in the naming ceremony had never been confirmed, but was strongly hinted at by everyone from F-35 program office officials to Lockheed Martin. The rumored plan would involve a trio of USMC jets wearing UK colors flying over the ship in a dramatic entrance to showcase the UK’s next-generation fighter.
The question now facing the plane is whether the flights to the air shows are also in danger, a potentially catastrophic public relations blow at a time when officials are making the case that the F-35 program is now stable for domestic and international customers alike.
Parts of the F-35 fleet have been grounded since an F-35A model caught fire the morning of June 23. Program officials said the F-35B model, including a UK-owned plane, had resumed flights by last Friday; however, the rest of the fleet remains on the ground while inspections are underway into the cause of the fire.
The F-35B models flying over to the UK will need to leave in the next few days to attend an F-35-focused event at RIAT on July 10. If the cause of the fire is not discovered or is found to be common to the F-35B models, it would raise questions about whether the jet can fly safely over the Atlantic. ■