The Air Force’s First Overseas-Based F-35A Unit Is Revealed And Now It Needs A Name

The word is out on the identity of the U.S. Air Force’s first F-35A unit to be permanently based overseas. The 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, eastern England, will reactivate the 495th Fighter Squadron as it welcomes the stealth fighters to the base from late 2021.

UK-based aviation photographer @THE_DON_TOG — who regularly works with the Lakenheath wing — was among the first to mention the news, posting on his Facebook page that the 495th Fighter Squadron is currently looking for suggestions for a name, with submissions required by September 18, 2020.

The 495th traces its lineage back to World War II when it was established as the 495th Fighter-Bomber Squadron as part of the 48th Fighter-Bomber Group at Key Field, Mississippi.

The unit was last active as the 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) operating the F-111F Aardvark strike aircraft from RAF Lakenheath, where it had been re-established in April 1977 as a fourth squadron within the wing which now had 91 F-111s assigned. In April 1986, F-111s from the 495th TFS were involved in the El Dorado Canyon strikes against targets in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. This unit was the only one to lose an F-111 during the Libyan raids, when “Karma 52” was posted missing, together with its two crew, Maj Fernando L. Ribas and Capt Paul Lorence.

Two 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron F-111Fs flying from Morón Air Base, Spain, during Exercise Open Gate in 1989., U.S. NATIONAL ARCHIVES

The 495th TFS was deactivated in December 1991, as part of post-Cold War force reductions.

Now, plans call for it to be returned to the 48th Fighter Wing roster where it will join three other frontline flying units, all of which are currently active flying F-15s:

  • 492nd Fighter Squadron, “Madhatters,” blue colors, F-15E
  • 493rd Fighter Squadron, “Grim Reapers,” yellow colors, F-15C/D
  • 494th Fighter Squadron, “Panthers,” red colors, F-15E
An F-15E Strike Eagle assigned to the 492nd Fighter Squadron launches from RAF Lakenheath for a training sortie., U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/TECH. SGT. MATTHEW PLEW

The 495th Fighter Squadron traditionally used green as its primary color, and it may be assumed that this heritage will be resurrected in some form once it receives its F-35As. However, it seems the squadron never received a nickname during its previous incarnations, hence the 48th Fighter Wing’s request for help now.

The badge of the 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron., WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Meanwhile, work is underway to prepare the Suffolk base for the arrival of the Lightning II. A ground-breaking ceremony for the new F-35 infrastructure took place at the base in July 2019. The infrastructure projects include a flight simulator facility, a maintenance unit, new hangars, and storage facilities to accommodate the Joint Strike Fighters.

“Breaking ground on this project takes us one step closer to becoming a more lethal and ready force as U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa’s premier combat wing,” said Col William Marshall, 48th Fighter Wing commander, at the time.

Since then, there have been reports that construction work has run over budget and over schedule, but there’s no indication that this will affect the timeline for the arrival of the F-35As.

F-35As from the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, taxi in at RAF Lakenheath, England, during a visit in April 2017., U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/STAFF SGT. EMERSON NUÑEZ

Eventually, the 48th Fighter Wing will host two squadrons of F-35As — a total of 48 aircraft — at Lakenheath. It is likely that the declaration of operational capability for the 495th will lead to the departure of the F-15C/Ds of the 493rd FS from Lakenheath, and that unit will then become the second F-35A unit at the base.

By opening up the naming of its first Lightning II unit, you too have a chance to participate in the illustrious history of the “Liberty Wing.” You can send your submissions to

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Thomas Newdick

Staff Writer

Thomas is a defense writer and editor with over 20 years of experience covering military aerospace topics and conflicts. He’s written a number of books, edited many more, and has contributed to many of the world’s leading aviation publications. Before joining The War Zone in 2020, he was the editor of AirForces Monthly.