RNLAF’s third F-35A unit welcomes first Lightning II

The first F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter for the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s (RNLAF’s) No 312 Squadron arrived at Leeuwarden Air Base on January 11.

The first F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter for the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s (RNLAF’s) No 312 Squadron is seen on final approach before landing at Leeuwarden Air Base in the Netherlands on January 11, 2024.
The first F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter for the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s (RNLAF’s) No 312 Squadron is seen on final approach before landing at Leeuwarden Air Base in the Netherlands on January 11, 2024. Patrick Dirksen

Prior to it landing at Leeuwarden, the fighter (F-039) conducted a flypast over Volkel Air Base, where No 312 Squadron will be relocated to in the near future. The aircraft was built at the F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Cameri, Italy. While the aircraft has yet to receive its No 312 Squadron markings, it is expected to receive them before it is transferred to Volkel. The unit currently retains the F-16AM/BM (MLU) Fighting Falcon and is scheduled to continue flying the outgoing fighter until October, this year.

This latest F-35A was initially earmarked to join the USAF’s 323rd Test and Evaluation Squadron (TES) at Edwards AFB in California, but these plans were changed and the jet will now remain in the Netherlands. A decision was allegedly made to instead transfer two F-35As to the 323rd TES that will be delivered in the highly anticipated Block 4 configuration and this latest F-35A (F-039) is still just a Block 3 aircraft, though it will be upgraded to Block 4-standard in the future.