F-35B Dons Huge Bat Insignia On Its Back

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B stealth fighter has begun wearing some decidedly non-standard markings, the most flamboyant we’ve seen on an operational Joint Strike Fighter so far. The upper fuselage and top surfaces of the wing of the F-35B in question, operated by Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 242 “Bats,” are emblazoned with a stylized motif showing the night-flying mammal of the unit’s logo. The jet has recently been captured by photographers at its base, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan’s Yamaguchi prefecture.

According to at least one of those photographers, this particular F-35B, serial 169623, which wears the individual code DT-01, was not known to have flown in 2024 until it made a dramatic reappearance in its new markings this month.

Another version of the same photo from the top of this story, this time without haze filter correction. @kG9pkIjAWWhidYX

The photo of the jet at the top of this story, provided by @kG9pkIjAWWhidYX on X, reveals details of the bat logo, including its red eyes. The photographer captured the jet earlier today when it made an overhead approach on Iwakuni’s Runway 20.

Previously, on June 13, official U.S. Marine Corps photos of the jet were published, although the bat markings were only seen at a distance, with few details visible. The occasion was the final flight of the commanding officer of VMFA-242, Lt. Col. Alexander Mellman at Iwakuni.

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 242, Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, displays a bat insignia during a final flight at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, June 11, 2024. This flight was conducted to honor Lt. Col. Alexander Mellman, commanding officer of VMFA 242, for his 20 years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps. Mellman is a native of Connecticut. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Chloe Johnson)
F-35B serial 169623 displays the bat insignia during a flight at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, June 11, 2024. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Chloe Johnson Cpl. Chloe Johnson

Mellman was conducting his last flight after 20 years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps. Photos show Mellman taxiing out in serial 169623, taking part in the ‘fini flight’ and then facing the traditional water hoses and champagne spraying after landing.

U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Alexander Mellman, the commanding officer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 242, Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, conducts preflight checks before his final flight at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, June 11, 2024. Mellman conducted his final flight in honor of his 20 years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps. Mellman is a native of Connecticut. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Chloe Johnson)
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Alexander Mellman conducts preflight checks before his final flight at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, June 11, 2024. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Chloe Johnson Cpl. Chloe Johnson
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Alexander Mellman, the commanding officer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 242, Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, poses for the camera while taxiing to the runway in an F-35B Lightning II aircraft during his final flight at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, June 13, 2024. This flight was conducted to honor Mellman’s 20 years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps. Mellman is a native of Connecticut. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Chloe Johnson)
Lt. Col. Alexander Mellman poses for the camera while taxiing to the runway in the F-35B during his final flight at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Chloe Johnson Cpl. Chloe Johnson
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Alexander Mellman, the commanding officer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 242, Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, is washed down in an F-35B Lightning II aircraft after his final flight at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, June 11, 2024. Mellman conducted his final flight in honor of his 20 years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps. Mellman is a native of Connecticut. (Courtesy photo by Lance Cpl. Logan Stone)
Lt. Col. Alexander Mellman is washed down in the F-35B after his final flight at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, on June 11, 2024. Courtesy photo by Lance Cpl. Logan Stone Cpl. Chloe Johnson
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Alexander Mellman, the commanding officer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 242, Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, is greeted by U.S. Marines after his final flight at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, June 11, 2024. Mellman conducted his final flight in honor of his 20 years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps. Mellman is a native of Connecticut. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Chloe Johnson)
Lt. Col. Alexander Mellman is greeted by Marines after his final flight at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, on June 11, 2024. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Chloe Johnson Cpl. Chloe Johnson

The incoming commanding officer at the “Bats” is Lt. Col. Patrick D. Bergman, according to the squadron’s Facebook page.

Part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, VMFA-242 was the second U.S. Marine Corps F-35B squadron to declare Initial Operational Capability (IOC), in September 2021. The F-35Bs replaced the F/A-18D Hornets previously flown by the “Bats,” which, by virtue of its location in Japan is one of the ‘tip of the spear’ combat squadrons in the U.S. military. It was also the second forward-deployed Marine Corps operator of the stealth fighter assigned to the Western Pacific, after VMFA-121, “Green Knights,” also at Iwakuni.

Soon after IOC, VMFA-242 jets — including serial 169623 — went aboard the modified helicopter carrier Izumo, becoming the first fixed-wing aircraft to operate from Japanese warships since the end of World War II. You can read about that historic embark here.

How long the bat insignia had been planned by the squadron is unclear, but the result is the most extensive squadron embellishment seen on any frontline F-35, to our knowledge.

Other U.S. Marine Corps and Navy F-35s — in particular, unit ‘flagships’ — have previously appeared with splashes of color that break the monotony of the jets’ normal low-visibility markings, but these are typically limited in size and scope.

As the VMFA-242 ‘color bird,’ serial 169623 was already wearing non-standard black and yellow unit markings and codes, as well as a rising sun insignia on the tail. Colored lettering is somewhat commonplace across U.S. fighter squadrons, boosting morale and building esprit de corps and has been increasingly seen on F-35s, which started out with far more monochromatic insiginas only.

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan (April 2, 2021) A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 242 lands at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, during a joint training evolution with Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force assets, April 2, 2021. The training enables joint force training in counter air operations and strengthens relationships between U.S. Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force units in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler Harmon)
F-35B serial 169623 lands at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on April 2, 2021. At this point, it wore non-standard black and yellow unit markings and codes, and a rising sun fin flash (since removed). U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler Harmon Lance Cpl. Tyler Harmon

Outside of the US. military, a handful of F-35 export operators have opted for colorful national insignia, albeit of generally small size, but these remain the exception and not the norm.

After all, the F-35’s coating of radar-absorbent material (RAM) plays a very important role in the aircraft’s ability to drastically reduce the range at which radars — especially those associated with fire control — can detect and track it. It’s primarily for this reason that the surfaces of the jet are only on rare occasions interrupted by larger non-standard markings. While it is known that significant leaps in the maintainability of RAM were integrated into the F-35 design, radar-absorbent skins are historically made of materials that are sensitive to environmental conditions.

The big bat emblazoned on serial 169623 certainly would increase the conspicuity of the jet during a within-visual-range encounter, although air-to-air combat of this kind is something that the F-35 was designed to avoid. It’s still possible it could occur, especially during a major, highly-complex conflict or during air patrol duties in complex airspace. As for how the motif might affect the RAM coating, that remains unclear, although it won’t have compromised any other of the jet’s stealth characteristics — including its composite construction and its carefully aligned edges and radiused contours tailored to deflect enemy radar.

200428-M-LP762-1107 IWAKUNI, Japan (April 28, 2020) A F/A-18D Hornet with Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 loaded with AGM-84D Harpoon missiles taxi aboard Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, Japan, April 28, 2020. During the exercise, Marine Aircraft Group 12 squadrons focused on naval missions and simulated anti-ship long range fires in order to enhance the Marine Corps' ability to effect sea control and denial in the Indo-Pacific, in-line with Force Design 2030. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Lauren Brune/Released)
Another colorfully marked jet from the recent history of the “Bats,” this is an F/A-18D Hornet seen at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on April 28, 2020, loaded with AGM-84D Harpoon missiles. At this time the unit was named Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Lauren Brune/Released Sgt. Akeel Austin

We have reached out to the U.S. Marine Corps to find out more about the decision to apply the bat motif on this F-35B and whether that will have any effect on the way that the aircraft is operated.

In a category of its own, meanwhile, is the bespoke aggressor pattern, designed to mimic the Chinese J-20 fighter, which been applied to U.S. Air Force F-35As assigned to the 65th Aggressor Squadron (AGRS). This scheme makes use of variation of existing radar-absorbent coatings cleared on the F-35. There has been work in expanding the colors that can be used on the F-35, but only very sparingly in small areas, as we can see with the red eyes of the bat on the F-35B in question.

The first two aggressor F-35As for the 65th AGRS. USAF/TSgt Alexandre Montes

In the past, TWZ has also looked at other non-standard F-35 schemes, including the remarkable skin coatings. Some of these, depending on the angle from which it’s viewed, appear either mirror-like or matte. Similar coatings have also appeared on the F-22 and the F-117 and, while the exact purpose is unknown, it seems likely they are related to reducing the infrared signature to help mask them from hostile infrared search and track (IRST) systems.

An F-35C of the U.S. Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Nine (VX-9), the “Vampires,” wearing a mosaic of panels with mirror-like finishes. Fred Taleghani / FreddyB Aviation Photography Fred Taleghani / FreddyB Aviation Photography

Putting this testing and evaluation role to one side, it will be interesting to see if any other U.S. Marine Corps — or other U.S. military — F-35s follow the trend started by VMFA-242 “Bats” and apply similarly flamboyant markings on any of their jets, whether temporary or as a more permanent fixture.

Update, June 26: We have received a response from the Marines about the specially marked F-35B.

According to Col. Kyle B. Shoop, the commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 12, VMFA-242 “recently unveiled a newly painted F-35B aircraft to showcase the new squadron logo painted as a black bat on top of the aircraft. The stealth fighter was painted in accordance with service regulations and the new paint does not affect the operational capability of the aircraft.”

“This paint scheme emphasizes the agility and stealth of the F-35B. The “Bats” have a proud heritage in Marine Corps aviation and continue that legacy as one of two permanently forward-based F-35B squadrons in the Indo-Pacific,” Col. Shoop, added.

Contact the author: thomas@thewarzone.com

Thomas Newdick Avatar

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.

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