A new era has begun in Norwegian military history. At 15:57 on Friday 3 November, the first Norwegian F-35 aircraft touched down in Norway.
At 06:35 Friday morning Norwegian time, three brand new Norwegian F-35 aircraft took off from Fort Worth, Texas. The planes then crossed the Atlantic Ocean, heading towards Ørland Air Station in central Norway. Just before arrival, the F-35s were welcomed by two Norwegian F-16 fighters. The first F-35 touched down at Ørland at 15:57 – after nine hours and twenty-two minutes in the air.
"This is a proud moment and a fantastic feeling. It is also a milestone for the Norwegian Armed Forces to get this capacity to Norway", says Major General Morten Klever, programme director of the Norwegian F-35 programme.
"Strength for Norway"
Friday's landing marks the end of years of planning, evaluations and preparations. Now a new era in Norwegian F-35 history has begun.
"F-35 will be a strength for the Armed Forces, and for Norway. We have been working for so many years to make this happen, and I am proud of all the people who have worked so hard for so many years. In the time ahead, F-35 will deliver to the Armed Forces", says Klever.
The American pilot Brian W. Bann was one of the pilots who flew the F-35s to Norway. To him it was a historic feeling to be greeted by Norwegian F-16s outside Ørland.
"It was a good flight. It was a great feeling to be greeted by the F-16s, very historic. It seems like a passing of the torch from the fourth generation to the fifth generation airplanes, and it was an honour and a privilege to be a part of it," Bann said when he spoke to the Norwegian press right after landing in Norway.
"Is F-35 the best aircraft in the world?" asked the press. "I would say that, yes. It is a great platform, and I'm just happy to be flying it", said the pilot who came from 32 ºC (90 ºF) in Texas – to 9 ºC (48 ºF) at Ørland.
The aircraft are still owned by Lockheed Martin. Because of this, the Norwegian F-35s had American markings and were flown to Norway by American pilots. Right after landing, the Norwegian Defence Material Agency (NDMA) started their receiving inspection. This includes a thorough inspection of the aircraft and all their technology and equipment. As soon as the inspection is concluded, the aircraft will be formally transferred to Norway.
The aircraft were supposed to land at Ørland 26 hours earlier. However, the take-off from the US was postponed due to lack of aerial refuelling aircraft.
On Friday 10 November, the three Norwegian aircraft will be officially presented during a reception ceremony at Ørland Air Station.
Operating from 2019
Norway has decided to purchase up to 52 new F-35A fighters. Four of the Norwegian F-35s will be permanently based at Luke Air Force Base, outside Phoenix, Arizona. There, they will be part of a multi-national pool of F-35s. The aircraft at Luke AFB will be used for training and testing.
As of November 2017, Norway has received ten F-35s. The first Norwegian F-35s will start operating in Norway in 2019.