The US Air Force on Tuesday 2 August declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for its very first squadron of F-35A Lightning II jets, situated at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The declaration follows a period of extensive training for the squadron and comes one year after the United States Marine Corps (USMC) declared IOC for its F-35Bs.
The 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill is now the world’s first operational F-35A squadron, flying ‘combat-coded’ aircraft running on the latest software block. The unit consist of 12 aircraft and 21 pilots, plus many support personnel. The first Lightning II arrived at Hill in September 2013.
Wether the squadron will soon make use of its IOC and deploy for operations abroad remains to be seen. Critics are quick to point out that the advanced Lockheed Martin F-35 is far from ready for actual combat. For exampe, the internal gun is still being tested at Edwards Air Force Base.
US Air Force tops brass however recently hinted to a deployment to Europe perhaps in 2017. That year, the USMC will first deploy its F-35Bs to Japan
The U.S. Air Force is moving its formal production decision on the KC-46 tanker program—known as Milestone C—from June 2016 to August 2016 to allow additional time to implement the solution to a refueling boom loads issue identified during flight testing earlier this year.
The Air Force also released an updated projection from Boeing for initial KC-46 deliveries and the expected timing for delivery of the first 18 certified tanker aircraft, a milestone known as Required Assets Available (RAA). Due to ongoing complexities associated with qualification and certification of the aircraft’s centerline drogue and wing-aerial refueling pod (WARP) systems, and the previously announced higher volume of change incorporation to bring the first 18 aircraft up to the certification configuration, the first tanker delivery will move from March 2017 to August 2017 with the 18th aircraft delivered in January 2018.
The underlying production system remains on track, and Boeing will have more than 18 aircraft through the factory line and in various stages of final change incorporation and certification by August 2017. The first 18 aircraft will be equipped with refueling boom and centerline drogue refueling capabilities as well as all other contract required capability except WARPs. The WARP systems required to complete full contractual RAA will be delivered separately in October 2018.
Boeing continues its effort with 5 aircraft now in test (including the first production aircraft), 7 aircraft in final production build, and 8 aircraft in the supply chain – up to tail number 20.
A US Air Force B-52 bomber has crashed in Guam in the Indian Ocean on Thursday 19 May, US authorities confirmed. All seven crewmembers escaped, but the aircraft was consumed by fire.
The crash happened as the aircraft took off from Guam’s 12,000 feet runway. According to a base official, the bomber only carried inert munitions when things went wrong. The aircraft’s homebase in the US was Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
Guam has been a long time deployment airfield for US bombers operating over Asia.
The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) has completed development of F-35 software block 3i, the same software the US Air Force will use to declare Initial Operational Capability (IOC) later this year. The Block 3i software provides F-35s with initial combat capability on upgraded computer hardware.
Until last week, the F-35 program had flown more than 100 flight hours with the 3i software and according to a JPO statemrnt, it has shown approximately twice the level of stability as the previously fielded Block 2B software and three times better stability than the original 3i software.
The JPO will begin to upgrade the F-35 fleet (LRIP 6, 7, and 8 aircraft) with 3i software the week of 9 May. The same stability and mission effectiveness enhancements have also been incorporated into a new version of Block 2B software, for the benefit of earlier fleet aircraft.
The new version of 2B software will be used to start upgrading LRIP 2-5 aircraft by the end of May. The entire fleet of fielded F-35 aircraft will eventually be upgraded to these two new software versions by the end of 2016.
Concluding Block 2B and 3i development and testing now allows the F-35 program to focus on completing Block 3F – the software block that should provide full combat capability. The improvements to Block 2B and 3i have been transferred to Block 3F, and all developmental test aircraft and labs have been upgraded to Block 3F.
In a surprise move and repeating last year’s visit to Germany, US Air Force Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors are seen in European skies again. Four jets arrived at Lakenheath airbase in the UK in the afternoon of Monday 11 April. The jets are here to conduct training with other Europe-based aircraft, said the US Air Force in a statement.
The advanced jets are deployed from the 95th Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. They will continue training until May. In 2015, the first official deployment to Europe took place as four aircraft flew to Spangdahlem in Germany. They remained there for four weeks of flying in the European theater, venturing close to Russia while doing so.
The arrival of the Raptors in the UK comes as a surprise. Upon landing, their visit was first linked with a planned visit of F-22s later this month in France. On 20 April, the US Air Force’s most potent fighter aircraft is scheduled to participate in the 80th anniversary of French Air Force Escadron de Chasse (EC) 2/4, flying Mirages at Istres-Le Tubé airbase in southern France. It remains unclear of the aircraft expected in France, are the same jets now deployed to the UK.
The US last week also deployed F-15 Eagles to Europe. They take part in exercise Frisian Flag in the Netherlands, about which an inside report will appear here at Airheadsfly.com very soon. The F-15s will stay in Europe for six months as part of a Theater Security Package.
The F-22 however is a seldom seen sight in Europe. Raptors have on rare occasions used the UK and Spain as stop overs to destinations elsewhere.