The arrival of four Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IIs at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, UK, on December 15 marked the much-anticipated delivery of aircraft for the US Air Force's (USAF's) first F-35 squadron to be based in Europe.
The aircraft, comprising serial numbers 19-5473 ‘LN’, 19-5474 ‘LN’, 19-5475 ‘LN’ and 19-5476 ‘LN’ with callsigns ‘Retro 31’ to ‘Retro 34’ touched down at the base around 1400hrs local time after a transatlantic ferry flight from the US.
They will be operated by the 48th Fighter Wing’s 495th Fighter Squadron (FS) ‘Valkyries.’ The unit was formally re-activated as part of the Liberty Wing on October 1, 30 years to the day since its original designation as a fighter squadron. The 495th FS is scheduled to be fully mission capable in 2022 with a total of 27 aircraft. The squadron had latterly operated the F-111F ‘Aardvark’ from 1977 until being inactivated on December 13, 1991, during which time it was also based at Lakenheath.
It was first announced on September 15, 2020, that the 495th FS had been selected as the first of two squadrons to operate the F-35A at Lakenheath. As its previous nickname of ‘Thundervarks’ referred specifically to the F-111, it was decided to rename the unit. After an invitation for suggestions from the public in autumn 2020, it was announced on February 16, 2021, that the name ‘Valkyries’ had been selected out of 700 possible suggestions. It beat four other shortlisted names – Archangels, Sabres, Sentinels and Swordsmen.
The 495th FS joins three other units within the 48th FW – the 492nd FS ‘Madhatters’ and 494th FS ‘Panthers’ both with F-15E Strike Eagles and the 493rd FS ‘Grim Reapers’ with F-15C/D Eagles. It was recently confirmed that the 493rd FS will eventually be divested of its F-15C/Ds to become the second Liberty Wing F-35A unit, giving Lakenheath two F-15E and two F-35A squadrons.