Tag: RAF Lakenheath
The commanders’ jets are the latest additions to the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath.
At around 18.00LT on Friday Apr. 15, 2022, two F-35A aircraft, both sporting the squadron commander markings for the 493rd Fighter Squadron ‘Reapers’ and 495th Fighter Squadron ‘Valkyries’ landed at RAF Lakenheath, UK. The two aircraft in question, coming from Lockheed Martin’s facility in Fort Worth, Texas, where they were spotted during the test flights preceding the delivery are the airframes 19-5493 and 19-5495.
We welcomed two new additions to our #F35 fleet! Beyond providing #FifthGen capability, these two aircraft will serve as the flagships of the 493rd and 495th Fighter Squadrons. ✈️🗽#WeAreLiberty #OwnTheSkies #ReadyAF@HQUSAFEAFAF @usairforce @US_EUCOM @NATO @theF35JPO pic.twitter.com/yzVcFvJN3g
— RAF Lakenheath (@48FighterWing) April 19, 2022
According to our contributor Martin Fox, who was at the base home of the 48th Fighter Wing, and took the photographs of the aircraft as they arrived at their new airfield, these jets had tried to make the transatlantic crossing for at least two weeks but had suffered delays caused by tanker issues and unfavourable weather over the Atlantic. For the ferry flight, the new flagship aircraft were supported by KC-135R, serial 62-3502, belonging to the 22nd ARW (Air Refueling Wing), from McConnell Air Force Base, Texas, which also arrived at RAF Lakenheath as RAF Mildenhall was closed for Good Friday holiday. Unfortunately for the tanker crew, after the long crossing, the Stratotanker had to hold for around an hour before landing as the runways cables needed to be de-rigged once the fighters had safely landed.
As we have already explained in a previous post, the “Grim Reapers” will become the second Europe-based U.S. F-35 squadron, following their colleagues of the 495th FS “Valkyries”, which received the first F-35s in December 2021. This way, RAF Lakenheath will have two F-15E Strike Eagle squadrons, the 492nd FS “Bolars” and the 494th FS “Panthers”, and two F-35A squadrons, the 493rd FS “Grim Reapers” and the 495th FS “Valkyries”. Each squadron will operate with at least two dozen F-35s.
The flagship aircraft of the 493rd FS, with serial 19-5493/AF-321, will probably operate with the 495th until the Reapers start to re-equip with the F-35A in the future. The “Grim Reapers” were the last to fly the “legacy” Eagles in Europe after more than 45 years of F-15A/B/C/D Eagle operations in the Old Continent. They completed their NATO enhanced Air Policing mission at Łask Air Base, Poland, on Feb. 28, 2022.
The first F-35A aircraft of the newly formed 495th Fighter Squadron have arrived in the UK.
Four F-35A aircraft departed from Fort Worth, Texas, arrived at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, on Dec. 15, 2021, marking the arrival of the first Europe-based USAF’s Lightning II 5th generation.
Flying as RETRO 31-34 and supported by BLUE81, a KC-135R #59-1495, and BLUE82, a KC-10A Extender #84-0189, the four aircraft (#19-5473, #19-5474, #19-5475 and #19-5476) approached RAF Lakenheath as a 4 ship at 13.50L before braking off and then all of them carrying out a missed approached before landing on RWY24.
As you can notice in the shots taken by The Aviationist‘s contributor Stewart Jack, the aircraft sport the 495th Fighter Squadron emblem on the air intake as well as the LN code, the shield of United States Air Forces in Europe as well as the motto “Mala Ipsa Nova” (Latin for “Bad News Itself”) on the twin tails. The 495th FS “Valkyries” is the first Europe-based U.S. F-35 squadron: it was re-activated on Oct. 1, 2021, at a specific, symbolic time, 8:49 and 50 second, that is to say exactly 30 years since the former 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron was redesignated as Fighter Squadron, shortly before being inactivated in 1991.
The 495th Fighter Squadron is scheduled to be fully mission capable in 2022 with a total of 27 aircraft and 60 personnel.
“Our coalition forces train and fight in the most dynamic theater, requiring the most advanced platforms,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa commander in a public release. “The Valkyries are leading our F-35 integration across Europe. We’ve come a long way, and now we’re extending our reach as a coalition force and what we will accomplish together.”
“‘Valkyries’ epitomizes the force’s move toward more inclusivity and equally represents the fifth-generation stealth fighter’s air superiority,” said Lt. Col. Ian McLaughlin, 495th Fighter Squadron commander. “Like the Valkyries themselves, we’ll be vital to determining the fate of our adversaries in the battlespace.”
The “Valkyries” will be the first Europe-based USAF F-35 squadron, with the first aircraft expected to arrive at their new home later this year.
During an official ceremony at RAF Lakenheath on October 1, 2021, the U.S. Air Force in Europe reactivated the 495th Fighter Squadron as part of the 48th Fighter Wing. The press release mentions that the unit was activated at a specific, symbolic time, 8:49 and 50 second, which is exactly 30 years since the former 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron was redesignated as Fighter Squadron, shortly before its inactivation and the retirement of the F-111F Aardvark at RAF Lakenheath in 1991.
Last year, before the reactivation, it was decided to change the squadron’s historic nickname, the “Thundervarks”, to better fit its new ride, the F-35A Lightning II 5th gen aircraft. The 48th FW crowdsourced the new name, with over 700 different suggestions, with resulted in five finalists. Ultimately, “Valkyries” was chosen as the new nickname, while the unit’s motto remains the one of the 495th TFS.
“In Norse mythology, Valkyries are female figures who choose those that will live, or die, in battle,” the 48th Wing statement said. “RAF Lakenheath is in the East of England, an area with extensive Viking and Norse history. Additionally, the 495th Fighter Squadron motto: “Mala Ipsa Nova” in Latin, means “Bad News Itself”. Both factors emphasize “Valkyries” as an extremely suitable nickname for the U.K.-based unit.”
Lt. Col. Ian D. McLaughlin has assumed command as the first commander since the squadron’s inactivation in 1991. “Today is an exciting day. There has been a great deal of work done to get us this far, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done prior to getting jets this winter. The 495th has a proud history and we’re excited to take the guidon forward to start building the foundation for first USAF F-35As stationed in Europe.”
Among the guest who attended the ceremony there were some members of the original 495th TFS, including retired U.S. Air Force Col. James “Rusty” Russell, former 495th Fighter Squadron commander, who deactivated the squadron on December 13, 1991. In a symbolic handover, Col. Russell unfurled the squadron’s guidon and passed it to Col. Sean Lowe, 48th Operations Group commander, which then passed it to Lt. Col. McLaughlin as he assumed command. “I’m ecstatic about this,” said Russell. “I’m so pleased to represent the F-111 community that was here originally, and we are deeply appreciative of being able to witness and be a part of this today.”
The Valkyries do not currently own any aircraft, with the first F-35s scheduled to be delivered to Lakenheath by the end of the year, supposedly in December. The exact date is unknown, but initially the F-35 Demo Team reserved a date to be determined for an exhibition in December at RAF Lakenheath, which supposedly should have coincided with the delivery of the first aircraft, before it was removed during the summer.
An image released by the Air Force in April showed the forward fuselage section of the first aircraft to be assigned to Lakenheath, ready to begin the assembly process on the production line in Fort Worth (Texas) during a visit of Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe. The aircraft has been identified with the serial 19-5474 (c/n AF-302).The 495th Fighter Squadron is scheduled to be fully mission capable in 2022 with a total of 27 aircraft and 60 personnel.
With the introduction of the F-35A, the 495th FS will step the 48th Fighter Wing and USAFE into the 5th generation of air power advancing multi-domain capabilities and air superiority, according to the press release. “The 495th Fighter Squadron represents a huge step in refining interoperability,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander. “We’ve already started exercising these capabilities with our partners who have F-35s in theater, so we’ll be ready to get after it when the new aircraft arrive in December.”
As we already reported in the past here at The Aviationist, the F-35s have already deployed to Lakenheath in the recent past. In fact, F-35s deployed multiple times there since 2017 to train in Europe and allow pilots and maintainers to learn more about the European operating environment, as well as improving the interoperability with partners in the region. The presence of the F-35 during these deployments also allowed to test the infrastructure and support before the aircraft is permanently assigned to the British base.
The 495th FS will be joined later by another F-35 squadron, as the DoD said that, with the reorganization of the U.S. Air Force units across Europe, two squadrons with 24 F-35s each would be based at RAF Lakenheath. Lakenheath is the perfect base for the perfect weapon system in the perfect country,” said Col. Robert Novotny, 48th Fighter Wing commander in press release published on the Air Force website back then. The second F-35 has not been identified yet however, according to some sources, the “Grim Reapers” of the 493rd FS might trade their F-15Cs for the F-35, and Lakenheath would become home of two F-35 squadrons and two F-15E squadrons.
USMC F-35Bs Have Landed At RAF Lakenheath For Upcoming HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Indo-Pacific Deployment
USMC F-35Bs have arrived at RAF Lakenheath to deploy aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Split into two sections, each including 5 jets, a total of 10 USMC F-35Bs aircraft have arrived at RAF Lakenheath, UK. The first five jets landed on Apr. 26, 2021; the remaining ones arrived at the base in Suffolk, England, on Apr. 28, 2021.
The USMC F-35Bs aircraft belong to the VMFA-211 Wake Island Avengers, based at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, and, in the next weeks, they will depart RAF Lakenheath to head to the HMS Queen Elizabeth, for UK’s new aircraft carrier’s first operational deployment. The photographs in this article were taken by The Aviationist‘s contributor Stewart Jack as the first section of USMC F-35Bs landed at RAF Lakenheath on Monday.
“Moving the Marines, aircraft and equipment to the United Kingdom required coordinated planning, complex logistical effort, diligent maintenance and seamless execution,” said Lt. Col. Andrew D’Ambrogi, the commanding officer of VMFA-211 in a public release. “Now that we have arrived in the United Kingdom, we are reintegrating with our UK counterparts and focused on providing both the commodore of CSG-21 and US combatant commanders with ready, combat-capable, 5th-generation aircraft.”
As part of the Covid-19 mitigation measures, VMFA-211 pilots will complete a 14-day restriction-of-movement prior to boarding HMS Queen Elizabeth.
@USMC 5th-generation aircraft flew more than 5,000 miles from their home station in Arizona to @RoyalAirForce Lakenheath, England, ahead of their upcoming combined deployment with the United Kingdom’s newest aircraft carrier. pic.twitter.com/otmaJOQ5O1
— U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe & Africa (@USMCFEA) April 28, 2021
Heading to the danger zone
On her maiden operational cruise, HMS QE will travel to the Indo Pacific region leading the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands war.
The naval line-up is going to include: Type 45 destroyers, HMS Defender and HMS Diamond; Type 23 anti-submarine frigates, HMS Kent and HMS Richmond; and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s logistics ships Fort Victoria and Tidespring; along with an Astute-class nuclear submarine will accompany the British aircraft carrier along with U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS The Sullivans and a Dutch frigate, HNLMS Evertse. During the 28-week deployment, the 10x VMFA-211 F-35Bs will operate alongside with 8x F-35Bs belonging to the Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron “Dambusters”.
The two units have already carried out joint training last year, when 10x F-35Bs of the “Wake Island Avengers” landed at RAF Marham on Sept. 3, 2020 to prepare the 2021 deployment. After local area training sorties with the Dambusters, the USMC F-35Bs took part in Exercise Point Blank with the F-15s from RAF Lakenheath and other NATO nations, before going to sea aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth for carrier qualifications and Exercise Joint Warrior 20-2.
Along with the 18x STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft (10 USMC F-35Bs currently at Lakenheath and 8 RAF F-35Bs from RAF Marham), the air component of the Carrier Strike Group will include 4x AW159 Wildcat and 10x Merlin helicopters. It’s not clear whether the latter will carry the Crowsnest AEW (Airborne Early Warning) system, although it seems quite likely. Here’s what we wrote in the article covering the deployment of the VMFA-211 to RAF Marham in September last year, quoting Save the Royal Navy:
Crowsnest will not formally achieve Initial Operating Capability until September 2021 but 3 of the 9 Merlins are planned to be fitted with pre-IOC standard kits. At least the CGS will have some kind of Airborne Surveillance and Control capability, even if not properly certified and complete. In a significant change of plan, 849 Naval Air Squadron, which had been the ASaC squadron equipped with Sea Kings and was supposed to transition to Crowsnest, was disbanded in April 2020. The role will now be absorbed into 820 NAS. The squadron will have two streams of observers that specialise in either, anti-submarine warfare or ASaC. The RN has just 30 Merlin Mk2 helicopters, airframes are in short supply.
Merlin Mk4s will also be deployed and maybe ‘FOBed’ (Forward Operating Base) on RFA For Victoria or the tanker. For parts of the deployment, the RFAs and warships may detach and operate independently of the main CSG. USMC V-22 Ospreys will not be permanently embarked on the carrier but, together with CH-53E Stallions, may be used to provide Maritime Intra-Theatre Lift to the carrier group as it moves around the world, supported by the global US military logistic support footprint.
The CSG led by HMS Queen Elizabeth will set sail towards the troubled waters of the Indo-Pacific region, an area of rising tensions with China.
Updated map of outward leg of #CSG21 deployment including latest information in public domain.@smrmoorhouse has confirmed the CSG will return home via Suez and the Mediterranean. https://t.co/zGxopxcMVW pic.twitter.com/AROmXlv19q
— Navy Lookout (@NavyLookout) April 28, 2021
According to the Independent, “the UK Carrier Strike Group will carry out engagements with the navies of India and Japan, who are in dispute over land and sea borders respectively with Beijing, as well as the navies of South Korea and Singapore. All four countries being visited are considered the west’s allies in countering what is seen as China’s expansionist strategy in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.”
The “incriminated” photo of an F-15E pilot with a “Russian Patch” was published by the RAF Lakenheath’s Facebook page in a post about the Exercise Point Blank currently in progress in the UK.
The U.S. Air Force 48th Fighter Wing posted on its official Facebook page an interesting photo, showing an F-15 pilot wearing what many have called a “Russian Air Force patch” on the flight suit. The photo is part of a post about the Exercise Point Blank currently in progress in the UK, a recurring large force exercise designed and cohosted by the Royal Air Force and the 48th Fighter Wing.
Many reacted strongly to the photos, even calling the pilot “a traitor” because he was wearing “enemy’s insignias”. Upon a closer look, though, the patch was found to be only a patch used by the F-15E Strike Eagle pilots of the 492nd Fighter Squadron “Bolars” when flying as the Aggressors in the Red Air role during complex training missions like the ones of Exercise Point Blank.
The shield-shaped patch shows a Russian-made Su-27 Flanker on a blue background with a Russian flag and the Cyrillic writing “Russia” on the top and the number “492” on the bottom, closely resembling the insignia of the now deactivated 611th Fighter Aviation Regiment of the Russian Aerospace Forces.
We did some further research about this patch and it looks like it has been around for at least three years, as some copies of the patch (including some early variants which were corrected before the final version) were found in auctions on Ebay and a couple of other websites in 2018. The auctions’ descriptions stated: “492nd FS “Red Air” Flanker Aggressor patch. The term “Red Air” is used to describe the opposing fighter in air-to-air combat training. This patch is worn by aircrew flying the aircraft while using adversary tactics.” Others say it’s an “Air Policing” patch. Whatever, it’s certainly not a Russian patch.
It is not uncommon for pilots who fly the enemy’s role during training exercises to wear patches and helmet covers inspired by the insignias of the adversaries that they are simulating, it is almost “a tradition” that is found not only in the United States, but also in the rest of the world.
Some specialized units even replicate the adversaries’ insignias and liveries on their aircraft, like the Aggressor squadrons of the U.S. Air Force and Navy. This is not done to mock the adversary which inspired the Aggressor pilots, but to help the visual identification during training.
On Aug. 28, 2020, 16x F-16CM/DM Fighting Falcon jets of the 31st Fighter Wing, based at Aviano Air Base, in northeastern Italy, deployed to RAF Lakenheath, UK.
Among all the other things, the Aviano F-16s, belonging to the 510th Fighter Squadron “Buzzards” and 555th FS “Triple Nickel”, have already taken part in close air support training with the 321st Special Tactics Squadron, the 19th Regiment Royal Artillery and the 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron; have participated in Point Black 20-4, a Large Force Exercise with more than 50 aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Marine Corps, the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force; and are expected to operate from the base in Suffolk, home to the F-15s of the 48th FW, for about one month.
Beginning on Sept. 15, 2020, the Vipers have also started flying low altitude in the Lake District Low Flying Area: a 2-ship flight, callsign “Venom”, was spotted in LFA17. Then, on the following day, two 2-ships and one F-16D, operated in the area using radio callsigns “Cobra 11”, “Sabre 11” and “Banshee 11”.
With 4,347 sq. miles of airspace available, which include Cumbria, East North Yorkshire, and North Lancashire, LFA 17 is one of the LFAs where British and allied combat aircraft can train flying as low as 250 feet (even lower over open water).
The images in this post, taken by photographer Simon Pearson-Cougill, show the F-16s of the 555th and 510th FS zipping low through the valleys earlier this week.
As a side note, the 510th and 555th FS should, in the future, be joined at Aviano AB, by the 480th FS “Warhawks” from Spangdahlem, Germany: on July 29, 2020 during a joint briefing with the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten, and Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the relocation of the Warhawks’ 28x F-16CM-50s to Aviano as part of the plan to reduce military personnel currently stationed in Germany.
The U.S. Air Force 493rd Fighter Squadron “Grim Reapers”, the only F-15C squadron in Europe, has been recognized the 2019 Raytheon Trophy as top Air Superiority Squadron. The announcement represents the sixth time the Reapers win the trophy since it was established in 1953 and the fourth straight year that the trophy is awarded to one of the 48th Fighter Wing’s squadrons, based at RAF Lakenheath, UK.
The latest editions were awarded to the Reapers in 2016, to the “Bolars” of the 492nd FS in 2017 and to the “Panthers” of the 494th FS in 2018. It’s worth noting that the Bolars and the Panthers fly the F-15E Strike Eagle.
Congrats to the #Reapers! Just announced as the US’s top Air Superiority Squadron for last year…the Raytheon Trophy stays at Lakenheath for the fourth straight year. They should just call it the #LibertyTrophy from here out! #WeAreLiberty! pic.twitter.com/Z6t3xvTZmb
— RAF Lakenheath (@48FighterWing) April 19, 2020
The Raytheon Trophy is awarded annually to the top air-superiority and air-defense squadron in the Air Force. Nominees are graded on air-defense and air-superiority mission performance, operational mission performance, organizational readiness inspection results, training exercise participation, unit and individual achievements and flight safety.
The trophy was instituted by the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1953 as Hughes Achievement Award and became soon known as the highest Air Force award for air defense units. The award changed name in Raytheon Trophy or Raytheon Achievement Award in 1997 after Raytheon bought part of Hughes’ defense business.
Initially, only Fighter Interceptor Squadrons were allowed to participate. In 1970 the competition was opened to any squadron performing air defense as their primary mission and finally, a few years ago, was opened to all fighter squadrons. The first editions of the award used different trophies every year. Since 1963 the hand-hammered silver trophy is retained for one year by the winner and is then passed on to the next one.
During the recent years, F-15 squadrons often celebrated the award with spectacular videos of their flight operations, giving aviation lovers all over the world a glimpse in their everyday life as they train with the mighty Eagle.