A Royal Air Force officer has become the first active-duty service pilot in the UK to fly Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II, also known as the joint strike fighter (JSF).

Squadron Leader Steve Long piloted BF-2, the second short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B to 20,000ft, over the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in the US state of Maryland before landing more than an hour later.

Long said flying the F-35 was exactly like the simulators, which made him confident of all the modelling and simulation work that has been done in all the other areas of the flight envelope.

“What this aircraft really gives the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy is a quantum leap in airborne capability because of the sensor suite it carries,” he said.

“The aircraft can plug into coalition battlefield networks and pass that picture on to all other players in the network.”

The F-35B significantly reduces the need for support assets and deploys closer to shore or near front lines, shrinking distance and time to the target and increasing sortie rates.

The aircraft can be operated from a wide range of ships or severe runways.

The JSF features a powerful sensor suite that will combine with an unprecedented networking capability to give improved situational awareness.

Long is the third active-duty service member to fly the F-35.

In December 2009 the UK received financial approval to purchase its third F-35B operational test aircraft in an effort to strengthen the JSF programme’s upcoming operational test and evaluation phase.