RAF Lakenheath


RAF Lakenheath
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
Near Eriswell, Suffolk in England
F15 Eagle - RAF Lakenheath July 2009 (3717331964).jpg
Boeing F-15E Strike Eagles of the 48th Fighter Wing taxiing at Lakenheath.
48th Fighter Wing.png
RAF Lakenheath is located in Suffolk
RAF Lakenheath
RAF Lakenheath
Shown within Suffolk
Coordinates52°24′30″N 000°33′24″E / 52.40833°N 0.55667°E / 52.40833; 0.55667Coordinates: 52°24′30″N 000°33′24″E / 52.40833°N 0.55667°E / 52.40833; 0.55667
TypeRAF station (US Visiting Forces)
Area727 hectares[1]
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence
OperatorUnited States Air Force
Controlled byUnited States Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa (USAFE-AFAFRICA)
Websitewww.lakenheath.af.mil Edit this at Wikidata
Site history
Built1940 (1940)
In use1941 – 1948 (Royal Air Force)
1948 – present (US Air Force)
Garrison information
Colonel Jason A. Camilletti
Garrison48th Fighter Wing
Airfield information
IdentifiersIATA: LKZ, ICAO: EGUL, WMO: 03583
Elevation10 metres (33 ft) AMSL
Direction Length and surface
06/24 2,743 metres (8,999 ft) Concrete/Asphalt

Royal Air Force Lakenheath or RAF Lakenheath (IATA: LKZ, ICAO: EGUL) is a Royal Air Force station near the village of Lakenheath in Suffolk, England, UK, 4.7 miles (7.6 km) north-east of Mildenhall and 8.3 miles (13.4 km) west of Thetford. The base also sits close to Brandon.

Despite being an RAF station, Lakenheath currently only hosts United States Air Force units and personnel. The host wing is the 48th Fighter Wing (48 FW), also known as the Liberty Wing, assigned to United States Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa (USAFE-AFAFRICA).


First World War

The first use of Lakenheath Warren as a Royal Flying Corps airfield was during the First World War, when the area was made into a bombing and ground-attack range for aircraft flying from RFC Feltwell and RFC Thetford.[2]

Second World War

In 1940, the Air Ministry selected Lakenheath as an alternative for nearby RAF Mildenhall and used it as a decoy airfield.[3] Surfaced runways were constructed in 1941, with the main runway being 3,000 feet (910 m), and the two subsidiary runways at 2,000 feet (610 m).[4]

Lakenheath was used by RAF flying units on detachment late in 1941. The station soon functioned as a Mildenhall satellite with Short Stirling bombers of No. 149 Squadron dispersed from the parent airfield as conditions allowed. The squadron exchanged its Vickers Wellingtons for Stirlings late in November 1941. After becoming fully operational with its new aircraft, the squadron moved into Lakenheath on 6 April 1942 and remained until mid 1944 when the squadron moved to RAF Methwold in Norfolk.[5] One Stirling pilot, Flight Sergeant Rawdon Middleton, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for valour on the night of 28–29 November 1942, when despite serious face wounds and loss of blood from shell-fire during a raid on the Fiat works at Turin in Italy, he brought the damaged aircraft back towards southern England. With fuel nearly exhausted his crew were ordered to bail out.[6]

On 21 June 1943, No. 199 Squadron was established as a second Stirling squadron.[7] It conducted mine laying operations at sea before moving to RAF North Creake in Norfolk on 1 May 1944.[8] No. 149 Squadron ended its association with RAF Lakenheath the same month, taking its Stirlings to RAF Methwold.[5] The reason for the departure of the two bomber squadrons was Lakenheath's selection for upgrading to a Very Heavy Bomber airfield.[3]

Cold War

Strategic Air Command

307th Bombardment Group Boeing B-29A-75-BN Superfortress 44-62328 SAC 8th Air Force, at RAF Lakenheath, England during the Berlin Airlift, 1948
Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighter, 1951
USAF Boeing B-47E-50-LM (AF Serial No. 52-3363) in flight.

Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union in Europe began as early as 1946. In November, President Harry S. Truman ordered Strategic Air Command (SAC) B-29 bombers to Europe. Truman decided to realign United States Air Force Europe (USAFE) into a permanent combat-capable force. In July, B-29 Superfortresses of the SAC 2nd Bombardment Group were deployed to Lakenheath. The first USAFE host unit at Lakenheath was the 7504th Base Completion Squadron, being activated in 1949.[3] The 3909th moved to RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire during 1954, and was replaced by the 3910th Air Base Group in 1955.[3] On 30 April 1956, two Lockheed U-2s were airlifted to Lakenheath to form CIA Detachment A. The first flight of the U-2 was on 21 May. The Central Intelligence Agency unit did not remain long, moving to Wiesbaden Air Base, West Germany in June 1956.[9]

On 10 October 1956, a United States Navy Douglas R6D-1 Liftmaster disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean after departure from RAF Lakenheath for a flight to Lajes Field in the Azores. The aircraft was on a Military Air Transport Service flight carrying 50 members of the 307th Bombardment Wing, on their way home to the United States after a temporary duty assignment and a US Navy crew of nine. All 59 personnel on board were lost.[10][11][12][13]

48th Tactical Fighter Wing

F-100D Super Sabre of 494 Tactical Fighter Squadron 48 TFW in 1965

Following French president Charles de Gaulle's insistence in 1959 that all non-French nuclear-capable forces should be withdrawn from his country, the USAF began a redeployment of its North American F-100-equipped units from France. The 48th Fighter Wing left its base at Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base, France on 15 January 1960, its aircraft arriving at Lakenheath that afternoon.[3]

The tactical components of the 48th TFW upon arrival at Lakenheath were:[14]

The period between 1972 and 1977 can be described as a five-year aircraft conversion. Beginning in late 1971, the 48th TFW started its conversion to the McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom II. The conversion to the F-4D took several years, with initial operational capability being achieved on 1 July 1975.[15] The F-4's service with the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing was short, as operation "Ready Switch" resulted in 48th Tactical Fighter Wing receiving General Dynamics F-111s Mountain Home AFB, Idaho in October 1976.[15]

Strike Eagle

Lakenheath received its first McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagles in 1992. On 16 December 1992, the last F-111 departed the base. Along with its departure, the 493d FS was inactivated, but then reactivated as a F-15C squadron.[16]

On 2 March 2011, members of the 48th Security Forces Squadron were involved in a shooting at Frankfurt Airport in Germany. The members were on a bus bound for Ramstein Air Base in Germany when they were attacked by a lone gunman.[17]

On 22 March 2011, F-15E 91-0304 crash-landed and was destroyed in eastern Libya after reportedly suffering from a mechanical failure. Both crewmen ejected and were safely recovered.[18] On 7 January 2014, a Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk from the base crashed following a bird strike while on a low-level training exercise with another helicopter (also a Pave Hawk), into the Cley Marshes near Cley next the Sea on the nearby North Norfolk coast. All four occupants died in the crash.[19][20]

On 8 October 2014, F-15D 86-0182 belonging to the 493d Fighter Squadron crashed during a training flight in a field outside Spalding, Lincolnshire. The pilot successfully ejected and was shortly recovered back to Lakenheath on board a Pave Hawk.[21]

A US Marine Corps Boeing F/A-18 Hornet of VMFA-232 "Red Devils" from MCAS. Miramar, California, crashed after taking off from RAF Lakenheath on 21 October 2015. The pilot, Major Taj "Cabbie" Sareen (34), did not survive.[22]

In addition to supporting three combat-ready squadrons of fighter aircraft, the Liberty Wing housed the 56th Rescue Squadron's HH-60G Combat Search and Rescue helicopters. The 56th Rescue Squadron re-located to Aviano Air Base in 2018.[23]

On 15 June 2020, an F-15C belonging to the 493d Fighter Squadron crashed during a training flight in the North Sea, 74 nautical miles east of Scarborough at about 54°21′00″N 001°40′00″E / 54.35000°N 1.66667°E / 54.35000; 1.66667. The body of pilot 1st Lt. Kenneth Allen was found deceased.[24][25]


A Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II of the type to be based at RAF Lakenheath.
A Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II of the type to be based at RAF Lakenheath.

F-35A Lightning II

In January 2015, the US Department of Defense announced that from 2020, Lakenheath would become home to 54 of the US Air Force's Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II multi-role fighters.[26][27] The aircraft would be split between two squadrons and there would be an increase of 1,200 military personnel and between 60 and 100 civilian workers at the station. The F-35 would operate alongside the two existing F-15E squadrons based at Lakenheath.[28] By November 2018, the number of craft had been revised to 48.[29]

The 495th Fighter Squadron was reactivated on 1 October 2021 to be the first F-35A Lightning II squadron at Lakenheath, with the first aircraft expected to arrive in December 2021.[30]

F-35 Infrastructure

To accommodate the new aircraft a F-35 Campus is to be constructed on the south side of the airfield.[31]

The main new operational buildings being developed as part of the F-35 project are as follows.[32]

  • Two six-bay maintenance hangars – Space for service, maintenance, storage, and staff support facilities (to be known as Hangars 4-1 and 4–2).
  • Hangar 6 (Consolidated Parts Store) – Single-storey extension to the southern side of Hangar 6, including offices and warehouses and the storage of aircraft equipment and parts.
  • Dual Squadron Operations/Aircraft Maintenance Unit – A three-storey building to provide combined facilities for two squadrons comprising Squadron Operations and Aircraft Maintenance Unit (AMU) facilities, including mission planning, administration space in the operations section and offices to manage the maintenance of aircraft and storage space.
  • Corrosion control and wash rack facility – Comprising single-storey hangar to maintain aircraft including a paint and sanding booth and wash rack.
  • Flight simulator facility – Comprising a single-storey building to accommodate six F-35A flight simulators, administration, records, classrooms, brief/debrief rooms, and storage space.
  • A Field Training Detachment Facility, comprising A three-storey building to provide F-35A training programme to maintain the aircraft, incorporating classrooms and administration rooms. Field Training Detachment Facility – A three-storey building to provide F-35A maintenance, including classrooms and administration rooms.
  • Aircraft Ground Equipment (AGE) Facilities – A single storey building extension and new covered storage associated with an existing building used for maintenance and storage of AGE related to the F-35A.
  • Fuel System Maintenance Dock – A single storey hangar with fuel system maintenance dock to support the operation of the F-35A.
  • Munitions Maintenance Facility – A single storey building extension and new covered storage to an existing building for the maintenance of munitions used by the F-35A.
  • Residential accommodation – A three or four-storey dormitory for up to 144 beds to accommodate the increase in station personnel.
  • Flight-line Dining Facility
  • Munitions Storage Administration Maintenance building
  • Hospital – Replacement medical facility up to four storeys to provide inpatient services, outpatient and speciality care clinics, ancillary services, support and medical administrative functions.
  • High school – A three or four-storey building to house approximately 560 students.

The airfield operational surfaces would also be expanded as follows.[33]

  • Charlie Apron, currently used by F-15's will be redeveloped and extended to allow the parking of up to forty-two F-35A aircraft in dual-occupancy shelters constructed from a light weight, canopy structure with open sides. The total area of Charlie Apron once extended will be approximately 78,392 square metres, combining the retained area of 58,780 square metres with the new area of 19,612 square metres. It will be connected to Maintenance Hangars 4-1 and 4-2 and the Squadron Operations/AMU building.
  • Alpha-Bravo Apron will be extended to accommodate existing F-15 aircraft currently using Charlie Apron. The total area of Alpha-Bravo Apron once extended will be approximately 54,179 square metres, combining the retained area of 39,750 square metres with the new area of 14,429 square metres. Up to thirty-eight F-15 aircraft will be capable of being accommodated on the open apron which would not feature any shelters.

Infrastructure delivery

Investment of $148.4 million (£116.7M) for the delivery of F-35A infrastructure at Lakenheath was authorised by the US administration in August 2018.[34]

In November 2018, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation awarded a £160M contract for infrastructure work to a joint venture between Kier Group and VolkerFitzpatrick.[35]

To make way for the F-35 Campus, demolition of the first of eighteen buildings began in March 2019.[36] The work on Alpha-Bravo Apron was completed in August 2020, allowing F-15E Strike Eagle operations of the 492nd and 494th Fighter Squadrons to be consolidated on one ramp.[37]

Near nuclear disasters

Because RAF Lakenheath was one of several British air bases which was used by the U.S. Air Force to store nuclear weapons during the Cold War, there was a possibility of nuclear incidents occurring at the air base.[38] Records show that there were at least two serious near nuclear disasters at the base.[38] The first near nuclear accident occurred on 27 July 1956, when a B-47 bomber crashed into a storage igloo containing three Mark-6 nuclear weapons. The aircraft exploded and the nuclear bombs were showered with burning fuel.[38] Although the bombs did not have their plutonium fissile cores installed, each of them contained a quantity of depleted uranium-238.[38] The crash and ensuing fire did not ignite the high explosives and no detonation occurred. However, a bomb disposal expert stated it was a miracle exposed detonators on one bomb did not fire, which would have released nuclear material into the environment.[39] The B-47 involved in the accident, which killed four crewmen, was part of the 307th Bombardment Wing.[40]

The event caused great concern for the British government, and as a result of the incident it was determined that it would be desirable to block US authorities from ordering evacuations in future if one of its nuclear weapons fell upon the British countryside. This began a debate over how to block the US military from alerting the public - and thereby causing expected national panic.[41] The policy for the next few years was to completely deny any incident had occurred if the press got word of a nuclear accident.[41] A similar near nuclear disaster occurred at RAF Greenham Common less than two years later in February 1958, when an aircraft allegedly carrying a nuclear bomb caught fire.[42]

The 1956 incident was not a freak occurrence, and a second near nuclear disaster occurred at Lakenheath five years later. In January 1961, a parked U.S. Air Force F-100 Super Sabre loaded with a mark 28 hydrogen bomb caught fire after the pilot accidentally jettisoned his fuel tanks, rupturing as they struck the concrete runway beneath.[38] The aviation fuel ignited and flames engulfed the nuclear bomb beneath the aircraft, but the fire was brought under control before the bomb's high explosive detonated or before the fire caused the bombs arming components to function.[38] However, the incident left the weapon "scorched and blistered".[43]

Based units

Flying and notable non-flying units based at RAF Lakenheath.[44]

United States Air Force

United States Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa (USAFE-AFAFRICA)

  • 48th Fighter Wing
    • 48th Operations Group
    • 48th Maintenance Group
      • 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
      • 748th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
      • 48th Component Maintenance Squadron
      • 48th Equipment Maintenance Squadron
      • 48th Maintenance Operations Squadron
      • 48th Munitions Squadron
    • 48th Medical Group
      • 48th Dental Squadron
      • 48th Inpatient Operations Squadron
      • 48th Medical Operations Squadron
      • 48th Medical Support Squadron
      • 48th Surgical Operations Squadron
    • 48th Mission Support Group
      • 48th Civil Engineer Squadron
      • 48th Communications Squadron
      • 48th Contracting Squadron
      • 48th Force Support Squadron
      • 48th Logistics Readiness Squadron
      • 48th Security Forces Squadron


Gate guardian

RAF Lakenheath's gate guardian is North American F-100D Super Sabre, serial number '54-2269'. The aircraft was originally delivered to the French Air Force. On return it was moved to the "Wings of Liberty Memorial Park" at RAF Lakenheath. Firstly it was painted as '55-4048', latterly as '56-3319'.[45]


Demonstrators outside RAF Lakenheath following its use in the 1986 bombing of Libya

Since the base's founding, RAF Lakenheath has been targeted for numerous peace protests from groups such as Stop the war coalition and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.


Lakenheath was one of the proposed sites of the NATO Pershing II Missile System. The deployment of the Missile system sparked protests all over Western Europe, and RAF Lakenheath was one of the most prominent military sites. The radical historian E.P. Thompson wrote in a pamphlet that basing the system at RAF Lakenheath directly endangered the lives of those in the nearby city of Cambridge:

"...Lakenheath is, by crow or cruise, just over twenty miles from Cambridge. It is possible that Cambridge but less probable that Oxford will fall outside the CEP. Within the CEP we must suppose some fifteen or twenty detonations at least on the scale of Hiroshima, without taking into account any possible detonations, release of radio-active materials, etc., if the strike should succeed in finding out the cruise missiles at which it was aimed." [46]

A semi-permanent 'peace camp' was set up outside RAF Lakenheath.[47] In 1985, the future Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was arrested for singing psalms at a CND protest at Lakenheath.[48][49]


Over 1,000 people demonstrated outside RAF Lakenheath in protest at the 1986 United States bombing of Libya.[50]

Protestors including Jeremy Corbyn, outside RAF Lakenheath in 2006.

Iraq war and later

The 2003 Iraq War sparked a new wave of peace protests. In one incident, 9 protestors gained access to the base by cutting through its perimeter fence.The protestors rode bicycles along the main runway, before chaining themselves together.[51]

Activists later established a 'peace camp' outside RAF Lakenheath to draw attention to the base.[52]

In 2006, a group of 200 people protested against the alleged nuclear weapons stored at RAF Lakenheath. Addressing the crowd was Jeremy Corbyn, who cycled to RAF Lakenheath from the railway station in Ely.[53][54] There were further protests on this issue in 2008.[55]


See also



Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/. Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document: "RAF Lakenheath".

  1. ^ "Defence Estates Development Plan (DEDP) 2009 – Annex A" (PDF). GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. 3 July 2009. p. 18. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
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  3. ^ a b c d e "Lakenheath". The Military Standard. Retrieved 25 November 2021.
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  5. ^ a b Jefford 1988, p. 62.
  6. ^ Bowyer 1979, p. 137.
  7. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 67.
  8. ^ Bowyer 1979, p. 138.
  9. ^ Powers, Francis (1960). Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident. Potomac Books, Inc. p. 23,29. ISBN 9781574884227.
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  13. ^ Grossnick, Roy A., United States Naval Aviation 1910–1995, Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, undated ISBN 0-945274-34-3, p. 214, claims the date was 11 October 1956.
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  15. ^ a b The History, Heritage and Heraldry of the 48th Fighter Wing, p. 6
  16. ^ The History, Heritage and Heraldry of the 48th Fighter Wing, p. 9
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  19. ^ "Helicopter crash in Cley". Norfolk Constabulary. 7 January 2014. Archived from the original on 8 January 2014.
  20. ^ "Geese caused fatal USAF helicopter crash in Cley, report says". BBC. 9 July 2014.
  21. ^ "Safety fears after US jet crash". BBC News. 9 October 2014.
  22. ^ "US Marine Corps pilot killed in F-18 jet crash in Cambridgeshire Fens". BBC Online. 21 October 2015. Retrieved 21 October 2015.
  23. ^ "News". Archived from the original on 17 November 2015.
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  25. ^ "RAF Lakenheath: US fighter jet crashes into North Sea". BBC Online. 15 June 2020. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  26. ^ Richmond, Tech. Sgt. Jake (8 January 2015). "Air Force F-35 Squadrons Slated for RAF Lakenheath Basing". US Department of Defense. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
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  32. ^ Le Brecht 2018, pp. 5–8.
  33. ^ Le Brecht 2018, p. 9.
  34. ^ "RAF Lakenheath Gets $150 Million of Investment For F-35A". Forces Network. 16 August 2018. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  35. ^ "MOD awards £160m contract to prepare RAF Lakenheath for US F-35s". GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. 19 November 2018. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  36. ^ "Demolition work begins at RAF Lakenheath". GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence and Defence Infrastructure Organisation. 19 March 2019. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  37. ^ Smith, Airman 1st Class Rhonda (14 August 2020). "Strike Eagles make room for F-35A arrival". Royal Air Force Lakenheath. US Air Force. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  38. ^ a b c d e f Felton, Mark (7 January 2019). "Broken Arrow UK - Nuclear Bomb Accidents". YouTube.
  39. ^ "nh4_1.gif". Archived from the original on 19 May 2000. Retrieved 17 June 2007.
  40. ^ "Cable to Commander-in-Chief Strategic Air Command Gen Curtis LeMay". U.S. Department of Defense. 27 July 1956. Archived from the original on 19 May 2000. Retrieved 5 July 2006.
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  45. ^ "Aircraft Data 54-2269, North American F-100D Super Sabre C/N 223-149". Airport-Data.com. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
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  47. ^ "Karthy Nair, progressive educator who always made herself heard". Islington Tribune.
  48. ^ "Williams". Magdalene College.
  49. ^ "Rowan Williams: God's boxer". The Guardian. 8 July 2011.
  50. ^ "Tension Over Libya: Thousands Take to the Streets; Anti-U.s. Protests Spread as Europeans Criticize Raid". The New York Times. Associated Press. 20 April 1986. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  51. ^ "Arrests made after air base break-in". East Anglian Daily Times. 11 March 2003.
  52. ^ "Activists gather at RAF Lakenheath to protest nukes". Stars and Stripes.
  53. ^ "Indymedia Cambridge, UK | Anti-Nuclear Campaigners Locked-On to Munitions Gate at USAF Lakenheath NOW". www.indymedia.org.uk. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  54. ^ "Peace campaigner stage base protest". East Anglian Daily Times. 2 October 2006. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  55. ^ Gooderham, Dave (19 May 2008). "'Nuclear bombs' protest at Suffolk base". East Anglian Daily Times. Retrieved 11 September 2020.


  • Bowyer, J.F. Action Stations: Wartime military airfields of East Anglia 1939–1945 v. 1. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Patrick Stephens Ltd, 1979. ISBN 0-85059-335-2.
  • Jefford, C G (1988). RAF Squadrons. A comprehensive record of the movement and equipment of all RAF squadrons and their antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury: Airlife. ISBN 1-85310-053-6.
  • Maurer, Maurer. Air Force Combat Units of World War II. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office 1961 (republished 1983, Office of Air Force History, ISBN 0-912799-02-1).
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947–1977. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Office of Air Force History 1984. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
  • Fletcher, Harry R. (1989) Air Force Bases Volume II, Active Air Force Bases outside the United States of America on 17 September 1982. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-53-6
  • Rogers, Brian (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.
  • Joe Baugher's Encyclopedia of American Aircraft
  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers—1908 to Present
  • Strategic-Air-Command.com
  • Le Brecht, H (19 February 2018). RAF Lakenheath Proposed Development – Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Screening Report (PDF). Mott MacDonald, Jacobs and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.

External links

  • Official website Edit this at Wikidata
  • UK Military Aeronautical Information Publication – Lakenheath (EGUL)