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, Kansas, 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.