Belgian Air Force F-35A Flies For The First Time

Belgian Air Force F-35
The first F-35A of the Belgian Air Force during its maiden flight on May 14, 2024. (Image credit: @gfontana767)

Here are the first images of the first Belgian Air Force F-35A during its maiden flight.

On May 14, 2024, AY-03, the third of a total order of 34 F-35s destined to Belgium, made its first flight.

The aircraft, took off around from Lockheed Martin Fort Worth facility, Texas, around 3.00PM LT and flew for about one hour. As the images taken by our friend and contributor Gherardo Fontana  (@gfontana767) show, the F-35A sports a colored roundel, the flag of Belgium on the tail along with the tail code FL003 (“Fighter Lightning 003”).

This is interesting, as the first aircraft to roll out factor in December 2023, designated AY-01, with tail code FL001, most probably because of the artificial lights of the ceremony, seemed to sport a toned down version of Belgium’s colored roundel and national flag compared to the one that flew yesterday.

Following the example of the Royal Danish Air Force, whose F-35s were the first to feature a toned down version of the colored roundel and national flag, Belgium added a subdued red and yellow along with their black, to obtain colored and quite recognisable markings. As recently reported, the Polish Air Force, opted for low visibility checkerboard and markings instead.

Another image of the first F-35A of the Belgian Air Force during its maiden flight on May 14, 2024. (Image credit: @gfontana767)

At the moment, the first four Belgian jets are in engine runs and flight testing.

The first Belgian Air Force aircraft will initially be based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where F-35 international customers’ pilot and maintainer training takes place and where Belgian Air Force pilots will conduct initial training. The first in-country arrival of an F-35 is planned for 2025 at Florennes Air Base, although F-35s will also be based out of Kleine-Brogel beginning in 2027.

In October 2018, Belgium opted to purchase the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II to replace its fleet of 54 F-16 Fighting Falcon jets, which were set to be phased out between 2023 and 2028. Initially, the plan was to deliver four F-35s per year from 2023 to 2030. However, the delivery of the first batch of four stealth fighters was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on subcontractors. The revised schedule planned for the first two Belgian F-35As to be delivered at the end of 2023 and two more in the first quarter of 2024. This schedule has since undergone further changes.

The initial plan was for the aircraft to be built with the new Technology Refresh 3 (TR-3) upgrades, but these upgrades have been delayed. TR-3 is critical as it includes both software and hardware upgrades necessary for the Block 4 upgrade and future improvements, serving as the IT backbone for all subsequent enhancements. All new production aircraft will receive TR-3, and it will be retrofitted on all F-35s already in service back to Lot 10. LM has confirmed us that all the BAF F-35s will be delivered in the TR-3 configuration.

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.