Wednesday , May 17, 2017 - 5:26 PM
HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Hill Air Force Base’s second F-35 fighter squadron is scheduled to begin operating in June, a major step toward filling out the installation’s full fleet of next-generation fighter aircraft.
In a Wednesday conference call with local and national media outlets, 388th Maintenance Group commander Col. Michael Miles said Hill’s 4th Fighter Squadron is expected to stand up on June 9. The squadron will be the second to form around the base’s F-35 program, launching nearly two years after the 34th Fighter Squadron began operating in July 2015.
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Starting in September, Miles said, the new squadron will begin receiving one or two aircraft every month from jet manufacturer Lockheed Martin. The squadron is already about 50 percent staffed, Miles said, as airmen who will work in it have been working for months in the 34th FS, preparing for the transition.
388th Fighter Wing Commander Col. David Lyons said the base’s third and final F-35 fighter squadron, the 421st, will begin operations sometime in 2018. By 2019, the 388th and 419th fighter wings are scheduled to receive their full allotment of 78 jets, spread across the three operational squadrons.
So far, the base has received 20 jets.
During the conference call, Lyons, Miles and seven other base officials highlighted the Hill wings’ recent deployment to Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England.
In April, Hill pilots flew eight of the base’s jets across the pond for the first time. The deployment included maintenance workers, security forces and other support personnel who trained with other U.S. and NATO aircraft stationed in Europe as part of the European Reassurance Initiative.
Hill crews trained with European-based allies during the exercise, with the F-35s flying into Eastern European counties like Bulgaria and Estonia, near the Russia border.
Lyons said 84 sorties, or combat training flights, were scheduled during the deployment, and all but four were completed. The four lost sorties were due to minor maintenance issues in which the jets were not ready at the scheduled take-off time.
Lt. Col. George Watkins, 34th FS commander, said the group’s first transatlantic deployment was “a major steppingstone in the run-up” to a real combat scenario.
You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mitchshaw.standardexaminer/.
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