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The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a fifth-generation stealth fighter that has been developed to the replace 3rd and 4th generation combat aircraft such as the A-10, F-16, Harrier, Jaguar, and Hornet in NATO and allied nation service. The F-35 was developed from the X-35 which won the Joint Strike Fighter competition against the Boeing X-32. The F-35 has been produced in three different base variants, a standard land based fighter version (F-35A), a Short Take Off and Vertical Land version (F-35B), and a carrier based catapult and arrestor hook version (F-35C) all utilising a common internal configuration and software setup. The F-35 is capable of carrying weapons both on external wing pylons but also in an internal weapons bay increasing its stealth capabilities. The aircraft is also fitted with an advanced 360-degree optical system that can identify missiles or stealth aircraft approaching that would otherwise go undetected, the feed can also be sent to the pilots advanced helmet so when they look down, they see the ground and not the cockpit floor.
The US Air Force currently intend to acquire over 1,700 F-35A models to replace the F-16 and eventually the A10 Warthog. The USAF declared initial operational capability in 2016 and has since deployed aircraft the world over on exercise. The US Air Force in Europe and Air Forces Africa received their first F-35s in December 2021. Delivered to the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, they are the first permanently based USAF F-35s outside of the USA. There are now two squadrons of F-35s based at RAF Lakenheath, the 495th Fighter Squadron known as the Valkyries and the 493rd Fighter Squadron known as the Grim Reapers. The 493rd previously flew the F-15C from the same base.
RAF Lakenheath will be sending one of their new F-35A to participate in this year's static display.
Photo Credit: Chen Peng