The “Valkyries” will be the first Europe-based USAF F-35 squadron, with the first aircraft expected to arrive at their new home later this year.
During an official ceremony at RAF Lakenheath on October 1, 2021, the U.S. Air Force in Europe reactivated the 495th Fighter Squadron as part of the 48th Fighter Wing. The press release mentions that the unit was activated at a specific, symbolic time, 8:49 and 50 second, which is exactly 30 years since the former 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron was redesignated as Fighter Squadron, shortly before its inactivation and the retirement of the F-111F Aardvark at RAF Lakenheath in 1991.
Last year, before the reactivation, it was decided to change the squadron’s historic nickname, the “Thundervarks”, to better fit its new ride, the F-35A Lightning II 5th gen aircraft. The 48th FW crowdsourced the new name, with over 700 different suggestions, with resulted in five finalists. Ultimately, “Valkyries” was chosen as the new nickname, while the unit’s motto remains the one of the 495th TFS.
“In Norse mythology, Valkyries are female figures who choose those that will live, or die, in battle,” the 48th Wing statement said. “RAF Lakenheath is in the East of England, an area with extensive Viking and Norse history. Additionally, the 495th Fighter Squadron motto: “Mala Ipsa Nova” in Latin, means “Bad News Itself”. Both factors emphasize “Valkyries” as an extremely suitable nickname for the U.K.-based unit.”
Lt. Col. Ian D. McLaughlin has assumed command as the first commander since the squadron’s inactivation in 1991. “Today is an exciting day. There has been a great deal of work done to get us this far, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done prior to getting jets this winter. The 495th has a proud history and we’re excited to take the guidon forward to start building the foundation for first USAF F-35As stationed in Europe.”
Among the guest who attended the ceremony there were some members of the original 495th TFS, including retired U.S. Air Force Col. James “Rusty” Russell, former 495th Fighter Squadron commander, who deactivated the squadron on December 13, 1991. In a symbolic handover, Col. Russell unfurled the squadron’s guidon and passed it to Col. Sean Lowe, 48th Operations Group commander, which then passed it to Lt. Col. McLaughlin as he assumed command. “I’m ecstatic about this,” said Russell. “I’m so pleased to represent the F-111 community that was here originally, and we are deeply appreciative of being able to witness and be a part of this today.”
The Valkyries do not currently own any aircraft, with the first F-35s scheduled to be delivered to Lakenheath by the end of the year, supposedly in December. The exact date is unknown, but initially the F-35 Demo Team reserved a date to be determined for an exhibition in December at RAF Lakenheath, which supposedly should have coincided with the delivery of the first aircraft, before it was removed during the summer.
An image released by the Air Force in April showed the forward fuselage section of the first aircraft to be assigned to Lakenheath, ready to begin the assembly process on the production line in Fort Worth (Texas) during a visit of Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe. The aircraft has been identified with the serial 19-5474 (c/n AF-302).The 495th Fighter Squadron is scheduled to be fully mission capable in 2022 with a total of 27 aircraft and 60 personnel.
With the introduction of the F-35A, the 495th FS will step the 48th Fighter Wing and USAFE into the 5th generation of air power advancing multi-domain capabilities and air superiority, according to the press release. “The 495th Fighter Squadron represents a huge step in refining interoperability,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander. “We’ve already started exercising these capabilities with our partners who have F-35s in theater, so we’ll be ready to get after it when the new aircraft arrive in December.”
As we already reported in the past here at The Aviationist, the F-35s have already deployed to Lakenheath in the recent past. In fact, F-35s deployed multiple times there since 2017 to train in Europe and allow pilots and maintainers to learn more about the European operating environment, as well as improving the interoperability with partners in the region. The presence of the F-35 during these deployments also allowed to test the infrastructure and support before the aircraft is permanently assigned to the British base.
The 495th FS will be joined later by another F-35 squadron, as the DoD said that, with the reorganization of the U.S. Air Force units across Europe, two squadrons with 24 F-35s each would be based at RAF Lakenheath. Lakenheath is the perfect base for the perfect weapon system in the perfect country,” said Col. Robert Novotny, 48th Fighter Wing commander in press release published on the Air Force website back then. The second F-35 has not been identified yet however, according to some sources, the “Grim Reapers” of the 493rd FS might trade their F-15Cs for the F-35, and Lakenheath would become home of two F-35 squadrons and two F-15E squadrons.
Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.