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As mentioned earlier, the Norwegian Air Force deployed two F-16 Fighting Falcons to 'play' with the F-35s

Norway has planned for around 50 F-35s in its inventory

As mentioned previously, the F-35s flew DACT missions with the RAF Typhoons from RAF Coningsby

29(R) Squadron aircraft such as this 2-seat T.3, were known to be involved

The F-35 Lightnings flew missions with and against the Lakenheath-based F-15s

A 494th Fighter Squadron F-15E is seen departing Lakenheath for a sortie on 28th April

#13-5081 is seen performing a 'run and break' over Runway 24 at Lakenheath

#13-5081 gets airborne from RAF Lakenheath's Runway 24 for a morning mission

The Lockheed-Martin F-35A is the U.S. Air Force’s latest fifth-generation fighter and will replace the aging fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs. It brings with it an enhanced capability to survive in the advanced threat environment in which it was designed to operate. With its aerodynamic performance and advanced integrated avionics, the F-35A will provide next-generation stealth, enhanced situational awareness and reduced vulnerability for the United States and allied nations. The conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) F-35A is an agile, versatile, high-performance, 9g capable multi-role, all-weather fighter that combines stealth, sensor fusion, and unprecedented situational awareness. The aircraft's advanced sensor package is designed to gather, fuse and distribute more information than any fighter in history, giving operators a decisive advantage over all adversaries. Its processing power, open architecture, sophisticated sensors, information fusion and flexible communication links make the F-35 an indispensable tool in combat operations. The F-35 is designed to achieve unprecedented levels of reliability and maintainability, combined with a highly responsive support and training system linked with the latest information technology. The Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) integrates current performance, operational parameters, current configuration, scheduled upgrades and maintenance, component history, predictive diagnostics and health management, operations scheduling, training, mission planning and service support for the F-35. Essentially, ALIS performs behind-the-scenes monitoring, maintenance and prognostics to support the aircraft and ensure continued health and enhance operational planning and execution. The F-35’s electronic sensors include the Electro-Optical Distributed Aperture System (DAS), providing pilots with situational awareness in a sphere around the aircraft for enhanced missile warning, aircraft warning, and day/night pilot vision. Additionally, the aircraft is equipped with the internal Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS), providing extended-range detection and precision targeting against ground targets, plus long range detection of air-to-air threats. The F-35’s helmet mounted display system is the most advanced system of its kind, the intelligence and targeting information being displayed on the pilot's visor. The F-35 contains state-of-the-art tactical data links that provide the secure sharing of data among its flight members as well as other airborne, surface and ground-based platforms required to perform assigned missions.

Primary Function: Multirole fighter, Prime Contractor: Lockheed Martin, Power Plant: One Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-100 turbofan engine, Thrust: 43,000 pounds, Maximum Take-off Weight: 70,000 pound, Payload: 18,000 pounds (8,160 kilograms), Speed: Mach 1.6 (~1,200 mph), Range: More than 1,350 miles with internal fuel (1,200+ nautical miles), unlimited with aerial refuelling, Ceiling: Above 50,000 feet (15 kilometres), Crew: One

F-35A Lightning II

Deploys to Europe

The F-35s flew regular missions in conjunction with the 493rd Fighter Squadron F-15C Eagles, one of which is seen above

'Ram 04' is caught about to depart RAF Lakenheath

A lot has been written about the development of the F-35 programme, a lot of it uncomplimentary and much of downright trash. Like any programme, particularly those that are ground-breaking and cost millions of taxpayers' Dollars, every teething problem or set back is blown out of all proportion. In June 2016, eight F-35As had deployed from Hill AFB to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, for IOC (Initial Operational Capability) mission tests, including SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defence), CAS (Close Air Support) and Air Interdiction missions; with 88 of 88 sorties flown, a 97 percent mission capability rate, with the F-35A remaining undefeated during engagements with 4th-generation aircraft.

With a total of 1,763 A-models on order for the US Air Force, to date over 200 F-35s of all variants have been delivered off the production line, and based on the recent Red Flag 17-1 exercise at Nellis Air Force Base that F-35As participated in for the first time, it is clear that the aircraft will be more than capable of achieving its projected aims. During RF17-1, the F-35s faced the most advanced aggressor aircraft and simulated threats currently available, and according to official statements recorded an impressive kill-ratio above 20-1 and a better than 90 percent aircraft availability, impressive by anyone's standards.

In much the same way as the F-22A Raptor deployment did in 2016, the fifth-generation F-35s forward deployed from RAF Lakenheath to other NATO nations so as to maximize their training opportunities during the deployment, helping to build partnerships with allied air forces and gain a broad familiarity of Europe’s diverse operating conditions. The ERI programme was initiated by President Barack Obama back in 2014 to increase the United States military presence in Europe, in the face of growing Russian aggression following the invasion of Crimea. Originally, the initiative was limited to $1 billion of funding in 2014, but continued through 2016 with an additional $789 million. With recent U.S-Russian tension increasing, President Donald Trump's administration has increased the funding for ERI to $3.4 billion for the 2017Fiscal Year.

The F-35A can carry two AIM-120C air-to-air missiles and two 2000lb GBU-31JDAM guided bombs

It also has an internal 25mm GAU-22/A cannon

“This is an incredible opportunity for USAFE Airmen and our NATO allies to host this first overseas training deployment of the F-35A aircraft,” said Gen. Tod D. Wolters (photo left), U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Air Forces Africa commander. “As we and our joint F-35 partners bring this aircraft into our inventories, it’s important that we train together to integrate into a seamless team capable of defending the sovereignty of allied nations.

During the initial flight to Lakenheath, one of the pilots noticed he had a fuel tank float valve that didn’t seem to be reading correctly and opted to have maintenance check it out as a ‘routine safety precaution’. That aircraft and its wingman stayed behind at Bangor, Maine before flying to the United Kingdom later, arriving in the U.K on Wednesday 19th April, bringing the deployment’s compliment up to eight aircraft. As part of the natural progression of the F-35 program, an overseas training deployment has been part of the Air Force’s plan since the F-35A was declared combat capable in 2016. “RAF Lakenheath will be the first

Over the first week of the deployment, F-35 pilots started doing air-to-air exercises with the F-15s, as well as engagements against other F-35As acting as ‘Red-Air’.  Pilots practiced 1v1 dogfighting and 2v2 formations using simulated weapons, including the laser-guided 2000lb GBU-12 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) and AIM-120 AMRAAMs (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile). From there, activities were ‘ramped up’ to small and large force exercises with RAF Eurofighter Typhoons, with all of the training exercises taking place over U.K. airspace. Some of the F-35s also conducted ‘out and back’ flights to Estonia and Bulgaria so as to familiarise themselves with the region. The locations of these missions were not announced until after the planes had safely landed back at RAF Lakenheath in the evening.

We would like to thank the 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs and everyone from the 388th Fighter Wing for their assistance in making this article possible

In September of 2015, the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, received its first two F-35A Lightning IIs. The 72 aircraft scheduled for Hill, are flown and maintained by members of both the 388th Fighter Wing and its reserve component, the 419th Fighter Wing. The 34th Fighter Squadron ('Rude Rams') became the first operational U.S. Air Force F-35 squadron in August 2016, the aircraft having been declared combat ready by General 'Hawk' Carlisle. He said at the time; "I am proud to announce this powerful new weapons system has achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC); the F-35A will be the most dominant aircraft in our inventory, because it can go where our legacy aircraft cannot and provide the capabilities our commanders need on the modern battlefield."

The early morning sun catches an F-35 on its way out for a mission

Saturdays as a rule are normally relatively quiet at RAF Lakenheath.  The afternoon of 15th April 2017 however was somewhat different, as large numbers of aviation enthusiasts gathered in the English countryside along the base’s perimeter fence to witness the first U.S. Air Force Lockheed-Martin F-35A Lightning IIs arrive for their inaugural training deployment in Europe. Jetwash Aviation Photos was invited along by RAF Lakenheath's Public Affairs department to get the lowdown on the A-version's first overseas deployment.

#14-5094 sits on the 'Last Chance' checkpoint awaiting his wingman

'Conan 01' is seen on 28th April, part of a two-ship flight about to depart for a mission to Bulgaria and back

Note how the nose-wheel gear retracts before the main landing gear during take-off

One of the most noticeable design traits of the F-35 is that weapons are carried internally

This helps enormously with the aircraft's already impressive stealth characteristics

On most days during the deployment to Europe, the F-35s flew both morning and afternoon missions

The arrival of the six F-35s from the 34th Fighter Squadron (34th FW), 388th Fighter Wing (388th FW) based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, marked the first F-35A flying training deployment to the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) area of responsibility or indeed any overseas location. An official statement released by Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa said; “A small number of F-35 Lightning IIs are deploying to Europe. This is a long-planned training deployment to conduct air training with other Europe-based aircraft. The F-35As will remain for several weeks. This inaugural training deployment to Europe is funded in part by the European Reassurance Initiative” (ERI). The transatlantic flight was supported by Air Mobility Command aircraft and the Mildenhall-based 100th Air Refueling Wing.

On 25th April, two F-35A Lightnings flew to Ämari Air Base, Estonia, followed three days later by a further two aircraft to Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria. Both deployments had been planned in advance and in co-ordination with the relevant national authorities and allowed the F-35A the opportunity to engage in familiarization training within the European theatre, whilst also providing reassurance to the allies and partners of the United States in ensuring ongoing peace and stability in the region. “These deployments clearly demonstrate our nation's contribution to the security and collective defence here in Europe,” said Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the commander of USEUCOM; and NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe. “It shows we are serious about territorial integrity and will defend our interests with the most advanced capabilities our nation has to offer.” The F-35 mission to Estonia was supported by a 100th ARW Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker from RAF Mildenhall, whilst the Bulgaria mission was supported by an Air Force Reserve KC-135R from the 459th ARW, an aircraft forward-deployed from Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.

Multiple air-refuelling aircraft from four different bases off-loaded more than 400,000 pounds of fuel during the ‘tanker bridge’ from the United States to Europe. The F-35s, along with Airmen and accompanying equipment marked the aircraft’s first overseas training deployment to Europe, with C-17 and C-5 transport aircraft providing the airlift support, moving maintenance equipment and personnel from the United States to the United Kingdom. The three week deployment also involved F-35 crews and personnel from the Air Force Reserve's 466th Fighter Squadron, 419th Fighter Wing, which is also based at Hill.

The first aircraft of a 4-ship flight, callsign 'Ram 01', powers down the RAF Lakenheath runway

overseas bed-down location for the F-35A, this deployment allows our pilots and maintainers to learn more about the European operating environment and will improve our interoperability with partners in the region” Wolters added.

The deployment came at a very delicate time for the United States, with their Russian relationship having been rocked by the recent Tomahawk cruise-missile strike on Syria. Having been planned for some time, it came as a natural progression that started with a proof-of-concept deployment to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, in 2016, followed by the 35FS's recent involvement in a Red Flag exercise at Nellis AFB. Once the last two F-35s arrived on Wednesday 19th April, the pilots started training with the Lakenheath-based F-15Cs and F-15Es, as well as Royal Air Force BAe Typhoons from RAF Coningsby. It was also reported that the F-35s would 'engage' with Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons during the deployment, although this was never confirmed. We do know however that the Lightnings flew in conjunction with Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s, as two were temporarily deployed to RAF Lakenheath for a few days. The lessons learned will help prepare for the bed-down of the F-35 squadrons that will be permanently based at Lakenheath in the early 2020s.