ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England — Active duty and Reserve Airmen from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, recently deployed to RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, marking the F-35A’s first overseas deployment
The 34th Fighter Squadron is training in Europe with units from the U.S. Air Force, Royal Air Force and air forces from other NATO Allies.
But, before the jets can launch, or pilots can even climb in to the world’s most advanced multi-role aircraft, their personal flight equipment must be mission ready.
Airmen in the 388th Operations Support Squadron’s Aircrew Flight Equipment section are responsible for making sure the pilots have all the equipment they need inspected and prepared before and after each flight – from high-tech helmets and masks to flight jackets and “G-suits.”
“We find and fix anything that’s wrong with the equipment the pilot needs to fly,” said Staff Sgt. Bruce Gjetley, 388th Operations Support Squadron.
Despite the F-35s sophisticated equipment, the Airmen said nothing has been particularly challenging about the deployment. Thanks, in part, to their hosts. They are working side by side with the AFE section at Lakenheath’s 493rd Fighter Squadron, which flies the F-15C.
“We arrived and basically everything was set up. They had lockers already set up with our pilots’ names on them. They had space for us to set up our test equipment. They’ve been wonderful hosts,” said Tech Sgt. Jason Truskowski, 388th Operations Support Squadron.
While the working conditions are similar enough to allow for a smooth transition, the flight equipment for the F-15 and F-35A are different and the AFE crew from Lakenheath has enjoyed the chance to get familiarized with the F-35A equipment.
“I think the helmet is really cool. The fact that everything is integrated, the night vision and the displays, makes it so much lighter than the helmet our guys have to wear,” said Staff Sgt. Samantha Barlond, an AFE member working with the 493rd Fighter Squadron.
The Airmen are excited to be making history with another first for a new airframe.
“This is an incredible opportunity. The four AFE Airmen that are here will be able to say we were the first in our field to support an F-35A deployment,” Truskowski said.