Officials say the Hill Air Force Base recently launched a record number of F-35 fighter jets to conduct combat power exercise. During the exercise, the wings confirmed their ability to employ a large force of jets against air and ground targets, demonstrating the readiness and lethality of the F-35 Lightning II. As the Air Force’s only combat-ready F-35A units, the 388th and 419th FWs must be prepared to launch any number of aircraft to support the national defense mission at a moment’s notice.
As many as 35 F-35 Lightning II aircraft taxiing as part of what is usually dubbed an “Elephant Walk”. During Elephant Walk exercises military aircraft (usually fully armed – but in the case of the F-35, the aircraft might carry some air-to-air missiles and bombs inside the weapons bays) taxi in close formation or in sequence right before a minimum interval takeoff and, depending on the purpose of the training event they then either take off or taxi back to the apron.
The wings fly between 30-60 sorties per day from Hill’s flight line. During the exercise, they launched roughly the same number of sorties, and aircraft took off in 20- to 40-second intervals. Launching aircraft from multiple squadrons simultaneously presents various challenges and allows the wings to evaluate the capabilities of maintenance professionals, as well as pilots and command and control teams.
The 388th Fighter Wing and its Reserve associate 419th Fighter Wing, are the F-35 units that met or surpassed the list of criteria to be considered “combat ready” with the Lightning II back in 2016. The first squadron declared to be operational was the 34th Fighter Squadron that was required to have at least 12 airframes ready for deployment operating as a basic close air support and air interdiction and limited SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) platform.