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  1. ITV Report

RAF base continues preparations for fighter jet arrival

New runways and vertical landing pads under construction at RAF Marham in Norfolk as part of a £250m redevelopment ahead of the arrival of F-35 Lightning stealth fighter jets next year. Credit: PA

Multimillion-pound building works are progressing well at RAF Marham in Norfolk ahead of the arrival of the first batch of stealth fighter jets.

RAF Marham will become the main operating base of the F-35B Lightning II warplanes - with nine of the aircraft set to touch down in the summer.

More than £500 million has been invested in the infrastructure at the Norfolk base, and station commander Group Captain Ian "Cab" Townsend said there is a real sense of excitement.

"It is an incredible time for RAF Marham," he told the Press Association.

"The station has got a real vibe to it, there is lots of excitement about what is going on."

Lightning Force Commander Air Commodore David Bradshaw (left) and Group Captain Ian Townsend, station commander of RAF Marham in Norfolk. Credit: PA

As part of the ongoing works a national operating centre - the headquarters for the Lightning Force - has been constructed and will be the first building to be handed over in early 2018.

A maintenance and finishing facility, which provides an eight-bay hangar for engineering maintenance purposes plus somewhere to paint the jets, has also been built.

There is also an integrated training centre, which will house four full mission simulators and ground crew training facilities.

Designed to mirror the stealth-like shape of the jet, the buildings are distinctly modern in their appearance in comparison to some of the buildings which precede them.

But not all the infrastructure work involves creating new structures. Some of the existing buildings are also being re-purposed, and the hardened aircraft shelters refurbished for the jets.

As the work has been ongoing the base has remained operational to the Tornado jets stationed there - apart from a three-week period when the runway intersection was resurfaced, grounding all flights.

Gp Cpt Townsend said: "The infrastructure work going on here for Lightning cannot affect our ability to sustain Tornado operations - so that is a really important part of my job.

"Making sure we continue to sustain Tornado - it is a balancing act, we work very, very closely with the contractors. They are very good, they understand the air safety and its importance."

James Aikman, project director for contractor Galliford Try and Lagan Construction, said the old concrete from the shorter 6,000ft runway has been recycled to provide the base for the new one.

And the 9,000 ft asphalt runway, now being used by the Tornados, will be refurbished and resurfaced once the shorter one is completed.

Alongside the work on the runways and taxiways, three new vertical landing pads are being constructed using high temperature resistant concrete.

Next summer will see the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots who are currently training in the United States, return as 617 Squadron, the Dambusters.

The Dambusters of 1943 were crews of British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and American personnel who conducted a night of bombing raids on German dams.

But the new 617 Squadron will be a combined team of Royal Navy and RAF personnel who will fly from both land and sea.

They will be based from RAF Marham and deployed on the Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers - forming an integral part of the Carrier Strike Group.

Air Commodore David Bradshaw, Lightning Force commander, said he is enjoying seeing the infrastructure "appearing out of the Marham mud at such a phenomenal rate".

He said 2018 is "going to be an exciting year" with the centenary of the RAF and the 75th anniversary of 617 squadron.

"We put those together, and it is the year the squadron is building up to be deployable on operations - it is so exciting, it is going to be quite a year," he said.

The UK has 13 F-35Bs in the United States being tested ahead of flight trials off the ship next year - with one more plane being delivered by the end of 2017.