Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II aircraft along with Airmen and accompanying equipment arrived at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk on Saturday 15th April 2017. This was the aircraft's first overseas training deployment to Europe.
The USAF F-35As are from the 34th Fighter Squadron, 388th Fighter Wing and the Air Force Reserve's 466th Fighter Squadron, 419th Fighter Wing, Hill Air Force Base in Utah, USA.
9 Photos - John Bilcliffe - RAF Lakenheath 24.04.17
The fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multi-role combat aircraft.
There are three variants including:
Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II:
A conventional take off and landing variant.
Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II:
A short-take off and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant.
Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II:
A carrier-based CATOBAR variant.
It was announced on the 8th January 2015 that RAF Lakenheath has been selected as the first United States Air Force base in Europe to station two F-35A squadrons, totalling 48 jets, to add to the 48th Fighter Wing's already existing F-15C and F-15E Strike Eagle jets, in 2021.
Six USAF F-35A aircraft arrived at RAF Lakenheath on Saturday 15th April 2017 and they included 13-5072, 14-5098, 14-5094, 14-5096, 14-5097 and 14-5102. They were later joined on Wednesday 19th April by two more F-35As - 13-5081 & 14-5091.
9 Photos - Matt Varley - RAF Lakenheath 19.04.17 (Media Day)
There was a Media Day held at RAF Lakenheath regarding the arrival of the F-35A Lightning II aircraft on Wednesday 19th April 2017.
"This is an incredible opportunity for USAFE Airmen and our NATO allies to host this first overseas training deployment of the F-35A aircraft," said Gen. Tod D. Wolters, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Air Forces Africa commander. "As we and our joint F-35 partners bring this aircraft into our inventories, it's important that we train together to integrate into a seamless team capable of defending the sovereignty of allied nations."
"RAF Lakenheath will be the first overseas beddown location for the F-35A, this deployment allows our pilots and maintainers to learn more about the European operating environment and will improve our interoperability with partners in the region" Wolters added.
As part of the training deployment, the aircraft will forward deploy to NATO nations to maximize training opportunities, build partnerships with allied air forces and gain a broad familiarity of Europe's diverse operating conditions. The introduction of the premier fifth-generation fighter to the European area of responsibility brings with it state-of-the-arts sensors, interoperability, and a broad array of advanced air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions that will help maintain the fundamental sovereignty rights of all nations.
The transatlantic flight for this training deployment was supported by Air Mobility Command and the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, England. Multiple air refueling aircraft from four different bases offloaded more than 400,000 pounds of fuel during the "tanker bridge" from the United States to Europe. Additionally, C-17 and C-5 aircraft moved airlift support, moving maintenance equipment and personnel.
Estonia - Tuesday 25th April 2017
Two F-35As (14-5102 and 14-5094) and approximately 20 supporting Airmen forward deployed from RAF Lakenheath to Amari Air Base in Estonia on Tuesday 25th April 2017. They stayed in Estonia for a brief period of time, carrying out training flights with other US and allied military aircraft, before returning to RAF Lakenheath. A KC-135 from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, England, provided refuelling support for the deployment to Estonia.
Bulgaria - Friday 28th April 2017
Two F-35A Lightning II aircraft (14-5094 and 14-5091) and about 20 supporting airmen arrived at Graf Ignatievo Air Base in Bulgaria on Friday 28th April 2017, from RAF Lakenheath, as part of a deployment that enhances the region's ability to host the aircraft for future deployments and operations. The F-35As were supported by a KC-135R Stratotanker, which departed from RAF Mildenhall. They stayed in Bulgaria for only a brief period of time before returning to RAF Lakenheath.
Photo 1 - John Bilcliffe - RAF Lakenheath 24.04.17 / Photo 2 & 3 - Alex Dunlop - Air-to-Air Refuelling
Four F-35A Lightning II aircraft (13-5072, 14-5091, 14-5097 & 14-5102) departed from RAF Lakenheath on Thursday 4th May 2017 and headed back to the USA. The remaining four USAF F-35As (13-5081, 14-5094, 14-5096 & 14-5098) left RAF Lakenheath and headed back home on Sunday 7th May 2017.