The Queen carried out her first official engagement of the year early today, as she visited RAF Marham in Norfolk in her role as Honorary Air Commodore. The visit was due to be her second of the year but, due to a cold, she had to cancel her annual engagement to the the local Women’s Institute last week.
RAF Marham in Norfolk is the home of the new £100 million F-35B Lightning stealth fighters – a fifth generation, multi-role, stealth fighter, as well as a range of engineering support functions, from maintenance to frontline support. Over 3,600 people work at the base, one of them being Station Group Captain James Beck who greeted Her Majesty upon her arrival.
The Queen looked peachy as she inspected a Guard of Honour (featuring RAF and Navy personnel) before visiting the new Integrated Training Centre. The centre helps to prepare the next generation of pilots and technicians, some of which The Queen met during her tour – so many, in fact, that she was heard to say “I seem to have gone around a lot of people here”.
The Queen watched training exercises, demonstrations of engine maintenance, weapons loading and a canopy charge. None of it would be new to Her Majesty, who trained as a mechanic in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the war, as she visits the base almost every other year during her winter holiday stay at Sandringham.
One big difference between the training being received by those today and that which Her Majesty received is the use of technology, with The Queen hearing from trainee pilots how much of the training is done with the use of artificial intelligence.
Her Majesty was seen laughing as she was told how training was going, and how the trainees used a life-size model – worth £6.4 million – to learn how to fly. One of the trainees explained how they had “pranged it” the first time they used it, but that “fortunately, it just involved a new lick of paint on this instead of damaging a £100 million aircraft.”
The Queen was formally introduced to the F-35B stealth fighter as she watched on while the vehicle was landed vertically. Although today was not her first time seeing the aircraft, having seen them in flypasts in the past, today was the first time that she had seen one up close. The cost of the first 48 vehicles has been estimated to reach a cost of £9.1 billion by 2025, that includes includes the price for support, training and maintenance cost, and 138 aircraft are to be delivered in the coming decades. Some of the jets will spend up to six months at a time on one of Britain’s two new aircraft carriers.
Today’s visit, which everyone was “buzzing” for, was a chance for Her Majesty to recognise all the people who have played a key role in getting these jets up and running. During the visit, The Queen lunched with 50 people, ranging in ranks, who were involved in the F-35B project.
Her Majesty is still in residence at Sandringham, but is expected to return to London later this week. She normally stays at Sandringham until just after the anniversary of her fathers death, which is also the anniversary her accession to the throne. (6th February). This year will mark 68 years since that faithful day, one that is incredibly history but full of sadness.