RAF Marham have welcomed home the F-35B Lightnings of 617 Squadron from their deployment on HMS Queen Elizabeth as part of the Carrier Strike Group 21. Families of the pilots gathered at the Squadron to await their return and watched as the aircraft came into the circuit above RAF Marham and landed back home for the first time in just over 7 months. The jets had taken off from HMS Queen Elizabeth approximately 30 minutes earlier as it entered the English Channel. RAF Marham Station Commander, Group Captain Marr, joined the families and colleagues at the Squadron to welcome the pilots back. The remaining personnel are still onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth and will sail back into Portsmouth later today where they will disembark. A number of families from RAF Marham have travelled down to Portsmouth to welcome their loved ones back.
Commander Mark Sparrow, Officer Commanding 617 Squadron said,
“It has been fantastic to command 617 Squadron as we deployed in HMS Queen Elizabeth as part of Operation FORTIS. I am immensely proud of every single member of the squadron and the way they have conducted themselves throughout the deployment, especially given the length of time away from home and operating from sea. We have had a fantastic opportunity to develop the Carrier Strike capability, working closely with all onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth as well as other ships as part of the Strike Group and with many other nations from the Mediterranean to the Pacific. This has enabled us to really put the F-35 through her paces and prove that the aircraft is at the cutting edge of defence.
As we return to Marham the people that we really must thank is our Families and Friends who have supported us throughout our time away. We are all very much looking forward to Christmas and spending some well-deserved down time with our loved ones.”
The Carrier Group have sailed across three oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian) and five seas, cumulatively covering circa 500,000 nautical miles. The group has exercised with or visited over 40 countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, Greece, Israel, India, Italy, Japan, Oman and the Republic of Korea.
RAF Marham Station Commander, Group Captain Marr said,
“It was great to welcome home the pilots of 617 Squadron today as they flew back from HMS Queen Elizabeth. By the end of this week the remaining personnel will have sailed back into Portsmouth and then returned home to their families where they can start their well-deserved Christmas leave.
This deployment required our personnel to be away from their loved ones for over 7 months and I am extremely proud of everything that they have achieved during that time, especially with the challenges they have faced with a global pandemic. We must also thank the families of those deployed whose support has been crucial to the success of this deployment. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year”.