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F-35 maintainers keep Lightning ready during exercise PR22

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Dhruv Gopinath
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Beneath the blue skies of the Mediterranean, U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Aaron Jacobs speaks into his headset in order to be heard over the roar of the engine of the F-35A Lightning II he’s helping launch.

Jacobs, his fellow crew chiefs and the fifth-generation fighters they keep airborne are part of the 495th Fighter Squadron based out of Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England but are operating out of Souda Air Base, Greece to participate in exercise Poseidon’s Rage 22, an annual training event designed to bolster interoperability between the U.S. and Hellenic Air Forces.

“We’re here to make sorties happen,” Jacobs said. “Every day we’re turning jets and making sure they’re good to fly.”

This year is the first time that American F-35s are operating out of Souda AB, which also makes it the first time Jacobs and many of his fellow aircraft maintainers have been to Greece.

“It’s a gorgeous country and I never imagined I would ever get to be out here,” he said. “I’ve been exploring as much as possible, speaking with the locals as much as I can. The language barrier is there but they’re always helpful with giving advice on where to go or what to eat.”

Jacobs is a recent addition to both the Air Force and his squadron, having arrived at RAF Lakenheath earlier this year.

“When I was being recruited, I thought it would be really cool to work on some of the newest fighter jets… you don’t know many people who do that,” Jacobs said. “I’ve been learning a lot that it’s hard to keep up some days with how advanced these jets are.”

The 495 FS was reactivated in October 2021 after almost 30 years of being deactivated. The unit’s time at PR22 has given them a chance to both validate their deployment capabilities and build a stronger sense of camaraderie.

“A lot of us are brand new at the unit since it’s so new,” Jacobs said. “We’re all trying to figure each other out, figure out how we plug in with one another. This exercise has been great for getting to know what my wingmen are like outside of work and has definitely brought us closer together.”

Operating under pressure is an everyday occurrence for Jacobs and his wingmen and it’s precisely those moments when the stakes are high that he enjoys most.

“When jets come down early you only have 45 minutes in the turn to do refuel, inspection and main tire changes,” he said. “It’s really rewarding when you have a lot to get done and you make it all happen so you can tell the expediter that the jet is ready to rock and roll. That’s my favorite part of the job.”