HILL AIR FORCE BASE — After a summer of transition, Hill Air Force Base’s two F-35 fighter wings are set to resume normal flying operations.
And that means Northern Utah residents will soon see and hear more jets in the skies surrounding the base.
This week, a pair of F-35 squadrons are returning to Hill after respective two-month absences. The airmen, who are from the active duty 388th and reserve 419th fighter wings, have concluded recent deployed operations and will resume daily flying missions at Hill on Saturday, according to base spokesman Micah Garbarino. Personnel and equipment associated with the groups have been trickling in all week, Garbarino said, which will continue through Friday.
Hill’s 421st Fighter Squadron returns after a two-month European Theater Security Package. Stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, the group participated in several combat exercises with allied nations.
According to a Hill press release, the mission was funded through the European Deterrence Initiative and provided a “more robust U.S. military ... presence in the European theater, capable of deterring adversaries and assuring partners and allies of (the) U.S.’s commitment to regional security.” Garbarino said Hill crews flew with 19 European nations during the deployment.
During the same time frame, Hill’s 34th Fighter Squadron has been operating out of Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, while the main runway at Hill undergoes a $45 million reconstruction. More than 250 airmen and 24 jets have been at Mountain Home since the latter part of May.
A large portion of the runway has reopened, but construction won’t be fully complete until October. Garbarino said about a dozen jets will remain in Idaho through most of August.
Another F-35 fighter squadron at Hill, the 4th, remains deployed at Al Dahfra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, in support of the U.S. Central Command mission. The mission marks the F-35’s first ever deployment to the Middle East.
Citing operational security, the Air Force has not released details about exactly how the aircraft are being employed, how long the deployment will last or how many jets and personnel are involved. However, the Air Force did confirm the Hill jets were involved in an air strike that occurred on April 30 at Wadi Ashai, Iraq. The jets bombed a long-established ISIS tunnel network and weapons cache in a remote area of the Hamrin Mountains, according to the Air Force.
The 388th and 419th are the Air Force’s first combat-capable F-35A units. The first operational F-35As arrived at Hill in late 2015 and by the end of this year, Hill will own and operate 78 F-35s.