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15-5202/HL nicknamed “Nighthawk” landing in Lajes on May 2, 2020. (All images: APS-Associação Portugal Spotters.)

On May 2, 2020, six U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II jets, landed at Lajes Field, on their way back from a tour of duty in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in the Middle East.

Flying as “TABOR 91-96” and supported by 100th Air Refueling Wing’s KC-135R Stratotanker “BLUE 43” (needless to say, just one of the tankers supporting the jets), the F-35 cell arrived at the Portuguese Air Force base in Terceira Island, Azores, in the Atlantic Ocean west of Portugal, from Al Dhafra Air Base, UAE. 

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In this photo, 15-5202/HL “Tabor96” with highlighted, the nickname of the aircraft (“Nighthawk”).

For the records, all the jets were drawn from a pool of Hill Air Force Base, Utah, squadrons. Here’s the list with the new nicknames (most probably applied during the deployment, as happened to the F-15Es):

15-5195/HL “Tabor91” 4FS “Fightin´ Fuujins” nicknamed “Reaper”
15-5199/HL “Tabor92” 421FS “Black Widows” nicknamed “Bone Saw”
15-5143/HL “Tabor93” 4FS “Fightin´ Fuujins” nicknamed “Iron Maiden”
15-5170/HL “Tabor94” 34FS “Rude Rams” nicknamed “Miss Behavin´”
15-5183/HL “Tabor95” 4FS “Fightin´Fuujins” nicknamed “Thor”
15-5202/HL “Tabor96” 421FS “Black Widows” nicknamed “Nighthawk”

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15-5183/HL “Thor”.
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15-5195/HL “Reaper”.

Tanker support was provide by 57-2605/D “Blue43” KC135R 100ARW/USAFE named “NKAWTG Biggabird” (NKAWTG are the initials for “Nobody Kicks Ass Without Tanker Gas”).

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KC-135R 57-2605/D landing at Lajes Field.

The 388th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, the US Air Force’s first combat coded F-35 unit, deployed its F-35As to Al Dhafra at the end of November 2019, just two weeks after the end of their first combat deployment. The deployed group was made up of active duty pilots from the 34th FS and Reserve pilots from the 466th FS of the 419th FW (based at Hill AFB), as well as a mix of active duty and reserve personnel for maintenance and other support roles.

During their stay in theater, flying directly from Al Dhafra, the F-35s of the 388th FW took also part in the first bilateral training with the Israeli Air Force F-35Is in the Israeli airspace. As reported, the exercise took place in the air only, no face-to-face meetings between Israeli and U.S. teams were carried out: briefing and debriefing were conducted on secure network connections as a consequence of COVID19 pandemic.