The first combat coded F-35s in the Air Force arrived at Hill Air Force Base Wednesday afternoon. The arrival marks the beginning of a new era at the base.
The first two F-35s to arrive showed themselves off to the small crowd gathered on the tarmac with a few flyovers before landing for the first time at their new home. The two new F-35s are the first combat coded versions to go anywhere in the Air Force and represent the most sophisticated multirole fighter ever built.
Col. Brad Lyons is the 388th Fighter Wing Commander and will oversee the transition from the nearly 30-year-old F-16 jets they currently fly.
“I can tell you, I’ve flown the F-16. I’ve flown the A-10. I think this jet will be a great replacement," he says. "And primarily because it can do the mission that those planes do.”
Lt. Col Yosef Morris is the director of operations for the first fighter squadron to receive the planes. He’s also flown more hours in the plane than anyone else on base. He says the arrival of the F-35, as well as Hill’s close proximity to the Utah Test and Training Range make the base an important part of the Air Force’s future.
“I would think that with the F-35 here it will keep Hill viable for years," Morris says. "It’s going to be the first operational squadron for the F-35 and we know that airplane is going to be here for a long time. It’s really the foundation of our Air Force in the future. And the ability to use that range that’s right next door here is unparalleled anywhere else in the country.”
Hill Air Force base leaders expect to receive about 72 new F-35s by the end of 2019. The Air Force will send one to two more planes each month and expects the unit to be ready for its first deployment by the end of 2016.