Two United States F-35A (USAF) Lightning IIs and about 20 supporting Airmen have arrived at Bulgaria’s Graf Ignatievo Air Base from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England to participate in the first training deployment to Europe. The aircraft and total force Airmen are from the 34th Fighter Squadron, 388th Fighter Wing, and the Air Force Reserve’s 466th Fighter Squadron, 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
Similar to the aircraft's visit to Estonia on April 25, this training deployment has been planned for some time and was conducted in close coordination with Bulgarian allies. It gives F-35A pilots the opportunity to engage in familiarization training within the European theater while reassuring allies and partners of U.S. dedication to the enduring peace and stability of the region. “Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, the Third Air Force commander, says, the United States and Bulgaria “routinely train through joint and combined initiatives like Operation Atlantic Resolve and in flying exercises like Thracian Eagle, Thracian Summer and Thracian Star.”
This is the first overseas flying training deployment of the US Air Force's F-35As. The deployment provides support to bolster the security of NATO allies and partners in Europe while demonstrating the U.S. commitment to regional and global security. It also signifies an important milestone and natural progression of the Joint Strike Fighter Program. It also allows the US to further demonstrate the operational capabilities of the aircraft, helps refine the beddown requirements for the F-35A at RAF Lakenheath to enhance Europe’s ability to host future capabilities of the Air Force, and coalition team and helps to integrate with NATO's infrastructure and enhance fifth-generation aircraft interoperability.