United States Military Invasion – East Anglia
On Friday 28th August 2020 the skies over East Anglia UK started to see the first of the United States military aircraft that were to be part of numerous NATO exercises during the month of September. Sixteen General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons from Aviano Air Force Base, Italy arrived at RAF Lakenheath in four flights of four ships between 0945 and 1110 that morning. This was the start of a month’s deployment to the home of the 48th Fighter Wing. The F-16s were mainly F-16CM’s with one F-16D and were from 555th Fighter Squadron, “Triple Nickel” and 510th Fighter Squadron, “Buzzards”.
|87-0350||F-16CM||555th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|87-0355||F-16CM||510th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|88-0491||F-16CM||510th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|88-0521||F-16CM||510th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|88-0525||F-16CM||510th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|88-0532||F-16CM||555th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|88-0541||F-16CM||510th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|89-2001||F-16CM||555th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|89-2008||F-16CM||510th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|89-2023||F-16CM||555th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|89-2026||F-16CM||510th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|89-2038||F-16CM||510th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|89-2044||F-16CM||555th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|89-2057||F-16CM||510th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|89-2178||F-16D||510th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
|90-0709||F-16CM||510th FS||Aviano AB, Italy|
The 510th Fighter Squadron has history going back to World War II, when as 510th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, it flew Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, based at RAF Christchurch, Dorset.
The 555th Fighter Squadron has a similar history back to World War II when it too, as 555th Bombardment Squadron, it flew Martin B-26 Marauder’s, based at RAF Snetterton Heath, Norfolk.
Both units earned Unit Citations for their parts played in the Operation Overlord, prior, during and after.
During the month that the F-16’s were at RAF Lakenheath they flew mostly daily flights with the 48th Fighter Wing and 100th ARW from RAF Mildenhall, helping to “sharpen their readiness and combat capability”. However, as I have stated they also took part in a number of exercises with aircraft from the United States Air Force, United States Marine Corps (F-35B’s from VMFA-211 at RAF Marham), the Royal Air Force and Royal Netherlands Air Force, such a “Exercise Pint Blank” on 10th September 2020.
They also flew with the fourth and fifth generation aircraft in an apparent complex war scenario, which included aircraft from the Royal Air Force F-35B’s, based at RAF Marham, Royal Air Force Typhoons from RAF Coningsby, Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16’s, United States Air Force F-15’s from RAF Lakenheath, United States Air Force KC-135’s from RAF Mildenhall, Royal Air Force Voyagers from RAF Brize Norton and Norwegian Air Force F-35’s. This exercise also had for the first time, Boeing B-52’s on deployment to RAF Fairford from Minot Air Force Base.
If the F-16’s were not taking part in exercises they were drawing in the crowds at RAF Lakenheath or wowing those who had climbed the mountains at “The Loop” in Wales or even those who just saw them in the skies above the UK. Between the 14th to 24th September the F-16’s flew from the mid-afternoon to around 2100 hrs, giving the enthusiast a chance of some spectacular night shots as they departed RAF Lakenheath on full afterburner.
One of the F-16’s, 90-0709 drew interest as it appeared in a “Have Glass V” livery. This is a special radar absorbing paint which reduces the aircrafts radar cross section thus making it hard to see.
Submitted photos for the report
In the evening of 3rd September 2020 the skies over RAF Marham was filled with the now usual sound of the Lockheed F-35B’s Pratt and Witney F135 engine. However, these Lockheed Martin F-35B’s were not local to this base. In two flights of five aircraft, the United States Marine Corps VMFA-211, “Wake Island Avengers” graced the Suffolk base on deployment.
The first flight, “MAZDA 11 to 15” arrived at RAF Marham at 1920, with “MAZDA 21 to 25” arriving just after 2000 hours, but the lateness of the hour did not stop avid aviation enthusiasts from attending the fence line to see them arrive.
The VMFA-211 has a history going back as far as January 1937 as VF-8M and flew Grumman F3F-1s, which were later replaced by the F3F-2’s when the squadron became VMF-2. The Squadron was used during the Battle of Wake Island from the USS Enterprise during World War II whilst flying F4F-3 Wildcats.
Throughout the war, the squadron was utilised in numerous engagements with the Japanese throughout the Pacific winning many awards both for the units and the pilots themselves including two Medals of Honour. They also used the Brewster F2A-2 during the conflict and later transitioned to the F-4U Corsair for the remaining time of the war.
During the Vietnam War, VMFA-211 as it was now known, was deployed again using the A-37B Dragonfly and later the MCD F-4. After this conflict, the squadron moved onto the McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and then later onto the AV-8B in June 1990.
It participated, more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On 9 May 2016, the first two Lockheed F-35B’s arrived for the squadron.
Whilst at RAF Marham, the VMFA-211 worked alongside 617 Squadron and other NATO aircraft in Exercise Point Blank (as detailed above) until they left RAF Marham on 22nd September for the aircraft Carrier Queen Elizabeth to take part in Exercise Joint Warrior in Scotland.
As this was the first time that two countries using the F-35B had worked together and the first time that VMFA-211 had made such an extensive deployment to the UK, they spent their time at RAF Marham familiarizing with carrier qualification training to ensure all pilots are proficient to operate from the carrier during both day and night. Training will also include live and inert weapons training.
The “Wake Island Avengers” are due to return to RAF Marham at the conclusion of Joint Warrior, but when and for how long remains to be seen.
Submitted photos for the report
At the same time that the East Of England had F-16s and F-35B’s, the west had a deployment of six Boeing B-52H’s to RAF Fairford, arriving on 22nd August 2020 as “TORE 51 to 56”.
60-0005 B52H 23rd BS “Warbirds”
60-0007 B52H 23rd BS “Guardians of the upper realm”
60-0029 B52H 23rd BS “Warriors beyond the horizon”
60-0044 B52H 23rd BS “Excalibur”
60-0056 B52H 23rd BS “Black Widow”
61-0034 B52H 23rd BS “Checkmate”
Published in Issue 26 of Spotters Magazine
All issues can be located at Spotters Magazine Issues
Screengrabs of the actual magazine report.
Report by Doug MacDonald
Photos courtesy of persons shown