Tail watchers line up at RAF Lakenheath for rare F-35 photos
RAF LAKENHEATH, England — Aviation enthusiasts from all over Britain have converged on this base for a rare chance to photograph the U.S. Air Force’s newest fighter, the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II.
The jets from the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, are the U.S. Air Force’s first operational F-35A. They arrived at RAF Lakenheath on April 22 for their first major overseas training deployment.
Nearly 100 vehicles were parked along both sides of the road leading to the dedicated viewing area outside the base.
“We absolutely love that there are so many photographers gathered to get such awesome shots of our F-35 visitors,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew, a base spokesman. He cautioned visitors not to obstruct traffic on a major highway nearby.
The arrival of the eight F-35s in Britain reinforces the close relationship between the two nations. The U.S. Air Force plans to station two squadrons of 54 F-35s at Lakenheath by 2021, and Britain plans to purchase a total of 138 of the fifth-generation warplanes.
This is the busiest it’s been along the fence line since the F-22A Raptor deployed to Lakenheath in April last year.
“In the location we live in we’re always in the flight path of the two American bases,” said photographer Simon Lewin. “People share each other’s photos on the forums, and it’s generally quite good. You get to see what different shots people are doing, see what you can do and where you can improve on your own shots.”
Aviation photographer Matt Pullen said he’s used the local haunt for the past six years and wouldn’t miss a chance to capture the F-35A II Lightning.
“I love it. Fantastic aircraft, great looking and sounds brilliant,” Pullen said. “They should come over more often.”
Enthusiasts used a combination of high-tech setups on vehicles, portable radio receivers and mobile phone applications to track outgoing and incoming flights of F-15s and F-35s, their destinations and pilot call signs.
That might seem like a security risk, but aviation enthusiasts have photographed around the USAF bases since the 1950s. They often report on suspicious activities to the authorities.
“[Britain] has no law for taking photographs of aircraft or structures from outside establishments, as long as they’re not trespassing on the facility,” Paul Glover, a Defense Ministry security official, said in a local newspaper.
Many of the photographers said they plan to hang around the base while the F-35s fly and the weather remains pleasant.