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Lightning II or Sea Lightning?


Donald McKelvy
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Aug 14, 2009
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"Should the Navy's new jet be called F-35B or Sea Lightning?"
Former head of the Navy, Lord West, asks the Ministry of Defence to consider following tradition have the new F-35B jet renamed 'Sea Lightning

by Alan Tovey
6:09PM GMT 30 Jan 2015


The futuristic F-35 stealth fighters that will fly from the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers could look back to history for their name.

Former head of the Navy, Lord West of Spithead, has called for naval tradition to be observed in the naming of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, which is currently known as the F-35B Lightning II in UK service. Lord West would like it to be christened the “Sea Lightning”.

Many other British fighters have adopted the “sea” prefix to their name when they joined the Fleet Air Arm. The include the Spitfire, which became the Seafire; the Fury, which became the Sea Fury; and the Harrier, which became the Sea Harrier.

The Labour peer proposed the new name on Thursday duing question in the House of Lords about the whether the jets would be ready when the carrier Queen Elizabeth comes into service.

“Sea Lightning... rolls off the tongue much better than Lightning II, so perhaps the minister would consider calling it Sea Lightning in future, rather than F35-B,” said Lord West, who reached the rank of First Sea Lord before entering politics.
The proposal from Lord West, who sits on the joint Lords-Commons national security strategy committee, instantly gained traction with other speakers adopting the term.

Even Lord Astor of Hever, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and the upper house’s spokesman on defence, referred to the jets as Sea Lightnings.

Graham Mottram, director of the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Southampton, said: “There is certainly a long tradition of prefixing naval aircraft with the word ‘sea’ because of the sometimes significant differences between them and the land-based variant. A classic example of this is carrier based aircraft having folding wings.

He backed the idea from Lord West (pictured right) adding: “There is a good justification for calling the F35-B the Sea Lightning and future historians and naval aviation enthusiasts would certainly like to see the continuity of the naming.”

Mr Mottram pointed out that the UK has not had the ability launch planes from aircraft carriers since the Navy’s Harrier was retired in 2010. This hiatus will only come to an end when the new F-35B jets start service. This is expected to be in around 2020.

“The reality is that we will have a 10-year gap in carrier strike capability. So when it comes back on stream I would like to see the name Sea Lightning to reflect who is able to deliver it,” Mr Mottram said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, which officially names the UK’s military aircraft, said: “We have no plans to rename the aircraft.”

The official reasoning behind how the jet got its name is that it pays homage to the English Electric Lightning, a British jet which entered service in the 1950s, and the World War II Lockheed P-38, a twin-engine US fighter.

The F-35 programme is the UK's most expensive ever defence programme with a price tag of $1.05 trillion (£620bn) over its 55-year lifetime. This includes development and support costs.

About 15pc of the components of each aircraft are manufactured in the UK. BAE Systems is the only tier one partner in the project, which is headed by American defence giant Lockheed Martin.

Other UK businesses involved in the production of the jets include Rolls-Royce, Martin-Baker, Cobham and Ultra Electronics.

It is anticipated that about 3,000 of the jets will be produced in total.


ACCESS: Top Secret
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Jan 25, 2020
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I have never heard of this, but it sounds interesting. I do agree that Sea Lightning would make for a great name, and would differentiate the Royal Navy's aircraft from the RAF's.


I really should change my personal text
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Oct 25, 2013
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While it wold be a great, even arguably better name the likely issue is the Lightning II/ “Sea Lightning” is a joint-aircraft operated by joint-squadrons (while specific squadrons have been named to honour historic RAF and RN squadrons).
Hence, unless you go completely against the joint- ethos of what you are trying to build, it is one name for all of them and on that basis “Sea Lightning” doesn’t make nearly as much sense.
However a token PR use in press/ promotional context may be pushed by the powers that be.


ACCESS: Top Secret
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Sep 6, 2006
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The agreed name seems to be F-35B Lighting - without the 'II' used elsewhere in the world.
The RAF's website says:
In British service the aircraft is known only as F-35B Lightning, losing its 'II' (it is actually the RAF's third Lightning, after the Lockheed P-38 and the English Electric Lightning).

There seems to be no type designation however (e.g. the latest Typhoons are FGR.4) which is highly unusual for any British military aircraft.

There is no separate RAF and FAA fleet of F-35s, they operate from a common pool of airframes from the same airfield and both operational squadrons will be carrier-capable, as we've seen with 617 Sqn aboard HMS QE. 809 NAS isn't even scheduled to form until 2023. Basically these are 'nameplate' squadrons for the joint force and I suspect there will be a lot of intermingling of pilots between the squadrons and to all intents and purposes both sets of pilots go through an identical flying training system. It will be interesting how the pilots will see themselves in terms of service ethos as things develop.

uk 75

ACCESS: Top Secret
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Sep 27, 2006
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The Sea Harrier was a very different new aircraft compared with the RAF Harrier.
The F35 as explained above is designed to be operated as a joint RAF/FAA machine.
Lightning reflects both UK and US famous combat aircraft and is a strong name.
I am sure that RAF and FAA squadrons will employ enough emblems and badges to reflect their separate and proud histories. But Joint Force Lightning on or off a carrier is the way to go. We can have enough friendly rivalry with the US Marines and their Lightnings.

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