Two U.S. F-35s Have Deployed To Bulgaria Today

U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II's from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, flys alongside a 100th Air Refueling Wing KC-135 Stratotanker in formation during a flight to RAF Lakenheath April 25, 2017. The F-35’s are participating in their first-ever flying training deployment to Europe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christine Groening)

The U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft continue their tour of eastern Europe.

On Apr. 28, two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft, 14-5094 and 14-5091, belonging to the 34th Fighter Squadron, from Hill Air Force Base and temporarily deployed to RAF Lakenheath, UK, arrived at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria.

The aircraft were supported by a single KC-135R Stratotanker, c/s “Nacho 81”, from 459th Air Refueling Wing, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, that launched from RAF Mildenhall.

Interestingly, the 5th Gen. aircraft used the very same radio callsigns used by the F-35s involved in the JSF’s first ever visit to Estonia on Tuesday: “Conan 01” flight.

According to the U.S. DoD, today’s training deployment has been planned for some time and was conducted in close coordination with Bulgarian allies. “It allows the F-35A the opportunity to engage in familiarization training within the European theater while reassuring allies and partners of U.S. dedication to the enduring peace and stability of the region.”

“The aircraft and Airmen began arriving in Europe on April 15, and are scheduled to remain in Bulgaria for a brief period of time before returning to RAF Lakenheath to continue their training deployment.”

Already deployed to Graf Ignatievo Air Base, to take part in exercise Thracian Eagle 2017 were also 12 F-15C Eagle jets belonging to the 122nd Fighter Squadron of the 159th Fighter Wing, Louisiana Air National Guard that are in the involved in the drills along with the local-based Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29s as well as Su-25s from the Forward Deployment Air Base at Bezmer, L-39s from the Air Training Group at Dolna Mitropoliya Air Base, AS-532 AL, Mi-24 and Mi-17 helicopters from Krumovo Air Base, and air defence units.

Whilst “Nacho 81” could be tracked during its flight (to and back from) Bulgaria, this time the deployment to eastern Europe was not “accompanied” by any evident activity by U.S. or NATO intelligence gathering aircraft. In contrast, as already reported, on Apr. 25, flight tracking websites exposed the presence of a U.S. Air Force RC-135U Combat Sent, an RC-135W Rivet Joint and a RAF Airseeker over or around Estonia.

The KC-135R supporting the F-35 to Bulgaria. (image credit: Adsb Exchange)


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. It was part of the Warsaw Pact. Sorry my friend, but that was Soviet dominated territory. You did what the Kremlin told you to do or you’d have seen the same tanks roll in that Hungary did.

  2. F-35 is now starting to show up all over the world. Japan, South Korea, UK, Estonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy, Israel, Netherlands. My advice to you Russia/Soviet-lovers? Get used to it!

    Above: USAF F-35A #14-5091 assigned to 34 FS touches down at Graf Ignatievo AB on April 28, 2017, marking the first time the NATO country has hosted the fifth-generation fighter aircraft. Eight F-35s deployed from Hill AFB, to RAF Lakenheath,on April 15. [USAF photo by TSgt. Ryan Crane]

  3. You sound so delusional, man. Why should Putin give a damn about U.S. jet fighters somewhere in Balkan, in a country which doesn’t even share borders with Russia?
    Few former Soviet countries which joined NATO and where in the future F-35s can operate are regarding to size of territory nothing comparable to how vast the territory of Russia and its allies is. Countries such as Belarus, Kazakhstan and other members of CSTO and BRICS have still more close to Russia than to any other country or organization, and that’s where U.S. Army just hardly could operates.

    On the one hand is true that most of European countries already forgot who liberated them from Nazi occupation, but on the second hand it gave Russia opportunity to aim its cooperation on richer countries and succeed there. Meanwhile European Union and NATO started cooperate with poor former Soviet countries just because of expansion to the East.

    With the “civilized world” you mean just easily influenced countries which joined EU and NATO and which do exactly what is told, don’t you?
    Sorry dude, but Russia has no need to listen your desperate orders and act like someone in West would wish, even if it could make the relations worse. Russia has its business partners all over the world, not just in Europe and as an example can be used the fact that also with those Western sanction they can live pretty well and moreover be more self-sufficient.
    Remember, it’s not Russia who needs the West so much, but it’s the West (mostly Europe) who needs Russia because its enormous natural resources.

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