Bystanders near RAF Lakenheath were ready to capture the landing of the first operational squadron of F-35As, who deployed this weekend for several weeks as part of the European Reassurance Initiative.
The F35's come from the 34th Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Their commander, Lt Col George Watkins, had this to say about the deployment to RAF Lakenheath:
"It's teamwork between us and the local population of the base here, as they're standing up their own F-35 squadrons here [...] so they can get some lesson's learned"
The deployment was planned months in advance according to the statement released by the Department of Defense, but the timing does come as international politics throughout the entire world are tense.
You might remember the 34th Fighter Squadron from their stellar performance in Red Flag, an annual combat exercise held at Nellis AFB, Nevada, where the F-35s they piloted had a 20:1 kill-to-death ratio. That exercise proved a pivotal turning point in the perception of the aircraft, turning the press coverage from mostly negative articles about cost overruns to the feasibility of air supremacy by avoiding adversary radars and surface to air missiles.
Public perception hasn't completely shifted, as the press releases on social media by the Department of Defense and RAF Lakenheath have had their fair share of naysayers; that hasn't stopped the press release corps from the two organizations from pumping out video after video.
The F35s will remain at Lakenheath for "several weeks" before returning home to Hill AFB, Utah. Until then, the training exercise is expected to get a lot of press as the first combat-ready F-35 unit of the USAF works closely with its British counterparts in the Royal Air Force.