HILL AIR FORCE BASE — For the Air Force’s F-35 Aerial Demonstration Team, their inaugural season at Hill Air Force Base in 2020 was unlike any other, to say the least.
In the latter days of 2019, when the Air Force announced that the team charged with showing off the F-35 would be moving to Hill from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, the group had a full slate of shows. They had more than 20 performances scheduled across North America, including a hometown display at the Warriors Over the Wasatch Air and Space Show at Hill.
But when their season started in March, it quickly became apparent the COVID-19 pandemic would throw a serious wrench into their schedule. Numerous shows were canceled, including the big one in Northern Utah.
In a news release, spokesperson Capt. Kip Sumner said the team reshaped their operations to continue their season in spite of the pandemic. The crew performed at venues that allowed for social distancing, like drive-in air shows and over-water performances. They also reinvented their community outreach by limiting in-person meetings and jet tours, instead opting for virtual calls with Civil Air Patrol squadrons and ROTC units across the country.
Sumner said despite the limitations, the team virtually met with almost 1,000 cadets and aviation enthusiasts during 2020 — working to fulfill its mission of inspiring, engaging and recruiting the next generation of airmen.
“We had a lot of unique obstacles and challenges this season that made our inaugural year at Hill a one-of-a-kind experience,” said Capt. Kristin Wolfe, the demonstration team’s commander and pilot.
And while the 2020 air show at Hill was lost and the next show isn’t scheduled until 2022, the team will still be seen in the skies above Northern Utah in 2021.
Sumner said the team will begin flying a regular rehearsal schedule, operating in and around Hill, beginning in early January 2021. The rehearsal information will be posted to the team’s social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram beforehand, giving Northern Utah residents a chance to see them in action.
The information will also be available on the social media platforms of the 388th Fighter Wing, which the demo team falls under. Micah Garbarino, spokesperson with the 388th, said there is also obviously a noise component associated with the practices, so releasing the practice information is also a matter of transparency. The practices take place during daylight hours though, so residents likely won’t be losing any sleep.
The approximately 18-minute demonstrations are designed to highlight the F-35’s numerous warfighting capabilities, including speed, agility and high-g turning.
The team’s normal performance schedule is set to resume in 2021 as well. So far, the group has 23 shows scheduled, including performances in Canada and the United Kingdom. Their official flying season starts in March at the Air Force Heritage Flight Training Conference, which is planned to take place at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.