After years of political debate, production and then some refueling challenges, the first three of Norway’s new F35 fighter jets landed safely on Friday at their new coastal home in Ørland, northwest of Trondheim. Proud military brass called it a “milestone” for Norwegian defense, with an official welcome ceremony scheduled for later this week.
The jets were supposed to arrive on Thursday from Texas, where US defense contractor Lockheed-Martin has been working on them for more than a decade. Complications in arranging for inflight refueling during the long trip from Forth Worth delayed that until Friday, when the jets touched down at precisely 3:57pm.
“It’s a milestone for Norway’s defense that the new jets have now arrived,” General Major Morten Klever, director of the fighter jet program in Norway, told reporters. They were ceremoniously met in the air by some of Norway’s old F16 fighter jets that the new F35s will replace, and escorted into landing at the new fighter jet base at Ørland.
The so-called “stealth” aircraft are difficult to detect on radar, measure 15.5 meters long and 10.6 meters wide, and boast speeds of 1.6 times the speed of sound, or the equivalent of 1,931 kilometers an hour when carrying a standard weapons load. They have a range of 2,200 kilometers, which explains why the in-flight refueling from another specially designed aircraft was necessary.
The new fighter jets are best known in Norway for representing the largest single mainland investment ever made. The Norwegian government, after great political debate and competition from other producers, has ordered 40 of them so far, with delivery of six new F35s expected every year (three in the spring and three in the fall) through 2024. They’ll cost NOK 81 billion (USD 10 billion), at current exchange rates.
Pilot Brian W Bann, who flew one of the F35s from Texas to Norway, was well aware of the historical aspects surrounding his landing at Ørland, and he called it “an honour” to have been among the delivery crew. Asked if he spotted any Russians along the way, he laughed and said, “no, just the Norwegian F16s” that formed the airborne welcoming committee.
Bann, who was due to fly back to the US on a conventional airline, said he felt like he was now passing on the torch, while claiming that the F35s are the best in the world and fun to fly. They’ll play a major role in Norwegian defense and in Norway’s participation in NATO, which has hailed their delivery and claimed they’ll add important capacity to European defense forces.