'Thundervarks' on the way out as Air Force seeks new name for F-35 squadron at Lakenheath

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II takes off from RAF Lakenheath, England, in April 2017, on the plane's first visit to the base. The 48th Fighter Wing is asking for help naming the new squadron of F-35As that will arrive at Lakenheath next year when the 495th Fighter Squadron is reactivated.


By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 16, 2020

The 48th Fighter Wing is asking for help naming the new squadron of F-35A Lightning II fighter jets that will arrive at RAF Lakenheath next year, saying “Thundervarks” just doesn’t cut it for the 5th-generation plane.

“Thundervarks” was the name given to the 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron which flew F-111 Aardvarks out of Lakenheath in England during the Cold War. The F-35s will be part of the 495th Fighter Squadron, which the wing is reactivating next year.

Aardvark means “earthpig” in Afrikaans, and the name was reportedly given to the storied F-111 because the nose of the medium-range interdictor and tactical attack aircraft reminded someone of an aardvark’s appendage.

“We’re looking for an updated name for an updated airframe,” said Master Sgt. Matthew Plew, a 48th Fighter Wing spokesman. “‘Thundervarks’ doesn’t really have the same stick” for an F-35 squadron.

The wing put out a call Tuesday on social media for aviation enthusiasts in Lakenheath’s community, in Suffolk, England, to suggest names for the reactivated squadron. Within 24 hours, more than 100 submissions had come in, Plew said.

Name suggestions are not limited to people living near Lakenheath. Anyone can propose a name by emailing the wing at 48fw.pa@us.af.mil, or tweeting to @48FighterWing.

“It’s a rare opportunity for an individual or individuals to leave their mark on Air Force history,” Plew said.

Submissions will be accepted until Friday noon, local time in England, which is eight hours behind Kadena Air Base in Japan, two hours behind Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania, an hour behind Ramstein in Germany, and five hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast.

“The new squadron leadership will have a large say, if not the final say, in deciding on the name,” said 48th Fighter Wing spokeswoman Maj. Sybil Taunton.

Construction began last year to prepare Lakenheath to become the first permanent U.S. F-35 campus in Europe. The squadron is expected to be reactivated in summer of 2021, with the first F-35s arriving next fall, officials said.

Eventually, there will be two full F-35 squadrons at Lakenheath, Taunton said. The 495th will be the first, with about 24 aircraft and approximately 50 personnel within the squadron, and another 600 or so associated with its aircraft maintenance unit, Taunton said.

It will be the fourth fighter squadron at the U.K. base. The 493rd “Grim Reapers” fly the F-15C Eagle, while the 492nd “Madhatters” and 494th “Panthers” operate F-15E Strike Eagles.

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The RAF Lakenheath-based 495th Fighter Squadron flew F-111 Aardvarks before it was deactivated in 1991. The squadron is to be reactivated at Lakenheath next year, flying F-35A Lightning IIs.