F-35A passes nuclear training test as Air Force unveils new squadron at Lakenheath

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An F-35A Lightning II from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, takes off to complete the final test exercise of the nuclear design certifiction process at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Sept. 21, 2021. Test pilots flew to the Tonopah Test Range at Nellis AFB and released two B61-12 Joint Test Assemblies from operationally realistic flight envelopes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Rufus)

John Vandiver

Stars and Stripes

An Air Force fighter jet slated to debut later this year in Europe passed a milestone when it dropped mock nuclear bombs during training flights designed to ensure its ability to fulfill NATO’s nuclear deterrence mission, the military said Monday.

The successful test of the F-35A Lightning II came as the 48th Fighter Wing, based at Britain’s RAF Lakenheath, reactivated the 495th Fighter Squadron last week for a new mission in Europe.

Ahead of the fighter model’s arrival at Lakenheath, two F-35As that took off from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., completed a full weapon system demonstration, regarded as a graduation flight test for achieving nuclear certification, the F-35 Joint Program Office said.

Pilots from the Air Force’s 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron twice dropped “high-fidelity, non-nuclear mock B61-12s,” with each drop at a different altitude and speed, the office said.

“The completion of this demonstration event keeps the F-35A on track to meet specific need dates for deploying the capability overseas,” it said.

The flights were the last of 10 guided releases of B61-12 test bombs performed by the F-35A.

The next step toward certification for real-world nuclear operations is technical analysis of test data to ensure that the bombs perform reliably and safely on the plane in all phases, the F-35 Joint Program Office said.

The new F-35 squadron at Lakenheath will consist of 27 aircraft and roughly 60 personnel, the Air Force said.

“The 495th has a proud history, and we’re excited to take the guidon forward to start building the foundation for the first USAF F-35As stationed in Europe,” Lt. Col. Ian D. McLaughlin, the squadron commander, said in a statement.

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