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Royal Air Force pilot flies F-35B fighter

Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Steve Long takes off from the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, in an F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter on Tuesday. A Lockheed Martin Photo

MARYLAND, US (BNS): Lockheed Martin-made F-35 Lightning II, piloted by a Royal Air Force officer, took to the skies here on Tuesday.

RAF Squadron Leader Steve Long became the first active-duty service pilot of the UK to fly the combat aircraft under production.

The officer flew the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B for around 1.3 hours at a height of 20,000 feet over the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.

This was the aircraft's 18th mission, Lockheed Martin said. The fighter has already been flown by US Air Force and US Marine Corps pilots.

Lockheed Martin had earlier this month announced the successful flight test of the F-35B Lightning II STOVL stealth fighter.

The combat aircraft is being developed by the US defence major in partnership with eight other countries.

The Joint Strike Fighter programme got a boost when Britain had recently announced to buy its third F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft for operational testing.

The country has invested the highest amount $2 billion for the F-35's development. Over 100 British firms are involved in the project, including the BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce.

Both the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy plan to induct the fighter aircraft.

The F-35 is a fifth-generation multi-role stealth combat aircraft capable of performing close air support, tactical bombing and air defence missions. It is being designed to replace the existing fleet of fighter aircraft of the nine partnering countries.

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