The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II on Monday 23 January kicks off its very first participation in the US Air Force’s famous Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas. The F-35s involved belong to the 388th Fighter Wing and 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base.
Red Flag is widely regarded as the most prestigious air warfare exercise anywhere. While involved in the exercise, the Hill F-35s will fly alongside dozens of other fighter aircraft and provide offensive and defensive counter air, suppression of enemy air defenses, and limited close air support. Among the other aircraft are also Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptors
The US Air Force declared the F-35A combat ready in August last year. Red Flag marks the first major exercise since then. “Our airmen are excited to bring the F-35 to a full-spectrum combat exercise,” said Col. David Lyons, 388th FW commander. “This battle space is going to be a great place to leverage our stealth and interoperability. It’s a lethal platform and I’m confident we will prove to be an invaluable asset to the commander.”
“Red Flag is hands-down the best training in the world to ensure our Airmen are fully mission ready,” said Col. David Smith, 419th FW commander. “It’s as close to combat operations as you can get. Our Reserve pilots and maintainers are looking forward to putting the F-35A weapon system to the test alongside our active duty partners to bring an unprecedented combat capability.”
The current edition of Red Flag runs until 10 February.
Hill Air Force Base, Utah, took delivery of its first Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II jets on Wednesday 2 September. The two fighter aircraft are said to be the first ‘fully combat coded’ F-35s for the US Air Force. They are to fly with the based 388th Fighter Wing and are the first of 72 F-35As scheduled for delivery to the base.
Hill is the fifth US Air Force base to receive the lightning II, following Eglin, Luke, Edwards and Nellis. During the next several months, the airbase will receive additional F-35As, pilots and maintenance personnel in order to meet requirements for the declaration of Initial Operational Capability (IOC) next year.
Close to four decades ago, Hill was the very first airbase worldwide to receive the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The based wing has been flying the type ever since.
The US Air Force activated its first combat squadron to fly the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. During a ceremony at Hill Air Force Base in Utah on 17 July, the 34th Fighter Squadron stood up from the ashes.
The 34th was also the first fighter squadron to receive the F-35s predecessor. On 8 December 1975 the first General Dynamics (later Lockheed Martin) F-16A Fighting Falcon landed. Many older non-US pilots know the unit well, with jocks from the Royal Netherlands Air Force, Belgian Air Force, Royal Danish Air Force, Royal Norwegian Air Force and the Israeli Air Force all having gone through initial qualification training on the F-16 in the early 1980s.
AFter its final 6 month F-16 deployment to Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan in support of NATO/ISAF operations, the 34th Fighter Squadron was decommissioned as part of a restructuring of the US Air Force. Later this year to be equipped with the first F-35As, the squadron is back on first row flying America’s newest fighter jet.
The US Air Force depot at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, has completed upgrades to two United States Marine Corps (USMC) F-35B Lightning IIs, just weeks before the type is expected to reach Initial Operational Capability (IAC) with the USMC. The upgrade works last four months and took 24,000 man hours to complete.
The work required maintainers to overcome numerous challenges, said a spokeperson. “They removed sections of the aircraft that many thought would never be removed, they strengthened wing ribs and worked in areas that required rare micro-tolerances.”
The first upgraded Lockheed Martin F-35B performed a test flight on 18 June, also using its Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) capability at Hill. The second aircraft follows this week.
Both aircraft arrived at Hill for upgrades in February, remarkably with less than a week’s notice from the USMC. The Marines are expected to be the first to reach IOC with their F-35Bs. Recently, six aircraft deployed to sea for extenstive testing.