The US Air Force’s first two combat-coded Lockheed Martin F-35As have touched down at Hill AFB in Utah, marking a new era in aviation for the base’s active-duty 388th and reserve 419th fighter wings, which are to receive 70 more jets through 2019.
Following its selection in 2013 to host the service’s first combat F-35 squadron, Hill has been waiting for the arrival of the Joint Strike Fighters. And on 2 September the first two aircraft – AF-77 and AF-78 - finally landed.
The F-35s were delivered from Lockheed’s F-35 production plant in Fort Worth, Texas, by Col David Lyons, commander of the 388th fighter wing, and Lt Col Yosef Morris, director of operations for the 34th Fighter Squadron, to which the first two examples have been allocated.
Activated in July, the formation intends to declare initial operational capability with 15 aircraft by August 2016. It has a history of taking the first examples of new combat types, having been the recipient of the initial combat-coded General Dynamics F-16s in the late 1970s, replacing McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms.
“Make no mistake, we're built for this. We will deliver the combat capability that our nation so desperately needs to meet tomorrow's threats,” Lyons says.
The wing intends to start flying the F-35 after 7 September, and will slowly build up its operating tempo as more aircraft are delivered and more pilots are qualified.
More than $120 million has been spent preparing the base to receive the F-35s, and its Ogden Air Logistics Complex is also being set-up to accommodate F-35 depot maintenance and support.
Delivery of the first two aircraft to Hill AFB comes one month after the Marine Corps established its first combat-coded F-35B squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona.