F-35s conduct first flights at RAF Lakenheath
By WILLIAM HOWARD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 20, 2017
RAF LAKENHEATH, England — Four U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II fighter jets are conducting their first flight tests at RAF Lakenheath since arriving here on the weekend.
The formation is part of a unit of eight jets slated to arrive in England from the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the U.S. Air Force’s first operational base for F-35s.
This marks the first major overseas training deployment for the aircraft. A total of 215 pilots, maintainers and support personnel will train with NATO partners in the region for the next several weeks.
“This training signifies a natural progression of the F-35 program,” said Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe. “It allows the opportunity to demonstrate and obtain confidence in the operational interoperability characteristics of this system.”
Col. David Lyons, 388th Fighter Wing commander, who has piloted F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Warthogs, said he would put the F-35 up against any other aircraft in the world.
“It brings to the fight stealth, advanced avionics, sensor fusion, an incredible electronic warfare suite, and it enables all of the other airplanes around it. Their game is improved by the mere fact that the airplane (F-35) is on the battlefield providing information,” he told Stars and Stripes.
The 5th-generation stealth fighter jet, likely the most expensive military procurement in U.S. history, has been criticized for cost overruns and alleged performance shortfalls. President Donald Trump has described the program as “out of control” and has asked Boeing to offer a price for the F-18 Super Hornet, a much older design, as a possible alternative.
The arrival of the F-35s in Britain reinforces the existing relationship between U.S. and British forces. The Royal Air Force plans to eventually have 138 F-35s in its inventory.
“We have pilots and aircraft operating at the moment in the United States,” said Air Marshal Stuart Atha. “We very much look forward to standing up 617th squadron back here at RAF Marham next year.”
The F-35 program is estimated to create 24,000 jobs and generate about 3 billion pounds in business for British companies.
The U.S. Air Force plans to station two squadrons of 54 F-35s at RAF Lakenheath by 2021. They will operate alongside the three existing F-15 squadrons.
“They’ll be able to pair with 4th-generation aircraft and together the power of 4th-generation with 5th-generation is enormous,” Wolters said. “The future is bright.”
One of four U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II fighter jets takes off for the first time from RAF Lakenheath, England, Wednesday, April 19, 2017. A total of eight jets are slated to arrive from 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the U.S. Air Force's first operational F-35A unit, for several weeks of training.
WILLIAM HOWARD/STARS AND STRIPES