HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Officials from Hill Air Force Base say F-35 pilots there will soon be taking to the night skies yet again, and this time it’s for an extended period of time.
Micah Garbarino, spokesperson with Hill’s 388th Fighter Wing, said base pilots are scheduled to conduct local night-flying operations on most weekdays, now through the second week of April. Garbarino said most of the flying is scheduled to be finished by 10 p.m., but there will be some instances when flying ends later than that. He also said the times could change based on things like weather, airspace availability on the Utah Test and Training Range, and other support elements.
During the flying operations, Northern Utah residents should expect increased noise.
Garbarino said Hill pilots regularly fly a limited number of night hours to meet Air Force proficiency requirements.
Jonathan Hassell, director of operations with Hill’s 388th Operations Support Squadron and an F-35 pilot, said night flying is a quintessential part of the jet’s existence. The plane’s stealth capability, which includes remaining inconspicuous under cover of darkness, has consistently been touted in Air Force circles as one of its main advantages over other fighter jets. Hassell describes the F-35 as an “all-weather fighter” and said pilots need a broad range of experience flying in various conditions.
“Night flying is a huge factor in what we do — it’s also much more difficult at times,” Hassell said. “If you take our regular mission set, whether it’s air-to-air training or air-to-ground training, and then you make it dark, it’s just much more difficult to accomplish.”
Hassell said night training is a pilot’s only opportunity to practice using certain systems of the Air Force’s “next-generation” fighter, like the jet’s night and thermal vision cameras, which essentially light up darkness and display a clear, visible portrait of the night landscape on a pilot’s helmet visor.
“It almost turns night into day,” Hassell said.
According to an Air Force fact sheet, Hill operates one of the busiest airfields in the military, with approximately 45,000 flight operations taking place there annually. Aircraft from all over the United States and internationally frequently fly into Hill’s Ogden Air Logistics Complex, which performs maintenance on dozens of aircraft. Hill’s Utah Test and Training Range in Utah’s west desert also draws aircraft from all over the world.
But the fighter wings perform the bulk of flight operations on base, training to remain combat ready with the F-35. Arrivals and departure are coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration, Salt Lake International Airport and Ogden-Hinckley Airport. The base fact sheet says pilots limit flying over densely populated areas, schools, churches and other public buildings. F-35s climb to assigned altitudes as quickly as possible to mitigate noise.