Earlier this month the United States Air Force announced that it would reactivate the 495th Fighter Squadron of the 48th Fighter Wing to support the F-35 mission at the Royal Air Force Lakenheath based in the United Kingdom. According to reports roughly 1,200 personnel will be deployed to operate and support two full squadrons of the F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
Air Force Magazine reported that the base’s first Joint Strike Fighters will be slated to be deployed to the base late next year.
The fact that the 495th Fighter Squadron will be the first overseas F-35 unit is notable in that the squadron was first activated during the Second World War as a the 495th Fighter Training Group, a training squadron that was equipped with a variety of second-line aircraft. It trained many of the pilots for the 4th Fighter Group and other P-47 units during the war. It was disbanded in April 15 due to the end of fighting in the European Theater.
The unit was reactivated thirty three years later in April 1977 as the 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron, the fourth tactical fighter squadron with the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath. The unit participated in Operation El Dorado Canyon on April 15, 1986 in the air raid against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s government for its involvement in the bombing of West Berlin discotheque.
The squadron deployed to Taif Air Base, Saudi Arabia, as part of Operation Desert Shield. During the campaign the unit suffered a loss in October 1990 when an F-111F crashed during a training mission, killing the pilot and weapons service officer (WSO). The unit participated in Operation Desert Storm and a year later was redesignated the 495th Fighter Squadron. It was “inactivated” on December 13, 1991 just before the official retirement of the F-111F Aardvark at RAF Lakenheath.
Out With the Thundervarks
As the 495th previously flew the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark, the low-altitude strike plane, the squadron was known as “The Thundervarks” but that name doesn’t work as the unit will be flying the F-35A instead.
As Stars and Stripes reported, “Aardvark means ‘earthpig’ in Afrikaans, and the name was reportedly given to the storied F-111 because the nose of the medium-range interdictor and tactical attack aircraft reminded someone of an aardvark’s appendage.”
In an unusual move, the wing put a call out this month on social media for aviation enthusiasts and those in the Lakenheath community, to suggest names for the reactivated squadron. Within the first twenty-four hours of the social media call out, more than 100 submissions came in.
While a final name hasn’t been decided upon, there is still time as the F-35s won’t be deployed until late 2021. However, it is likely some eagle-eyed residents living in the area may have seen an F-35B in the skies overhead in recent weeks. Ten of the Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter arrived with the United States Marine Corps’ “Wake Island Avengers” of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211), Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. These stealth fighter jets will take part in exercises with the Royal Air Force prior to deploying on the Royal Navy’s new flagship, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.