Pilots from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings dropped laser-guided bombs (LGBs) at the Utah Test and Training Range the week of Feb. 25, the first time operational Air Force F-35A combat units deployed weapons from the Lightning II, according to an Air Force news release.
“The pilots and weapons loaders in the 388th and 419th fighter wings are perfecting their skills not only to prove aircraft capabilities, but they’ll also be the airmen called upon to take the F-35 to combat, whenever that call may come.”
“This is significant because we’re building the confidence of our pilots by actually dropping something off the airplane instead of simulating weapon employment,” said Lt. Col. George Watkins, commander of the 34th Fighter Squadron.
While Air Force F-35As have dropped weapons and fired air-to-air missiles in test environments, this is the first time munitions have been dropped by operational units that will deploy with the aircraft once the Air Force declares initial operational capability. The Air Force says it plans to declare IOC between August and December of this year.
“The pilots and weapons loaders in the 388th and 419th fighter wings are perfecting their skills not only to prove aircraft capabilities, but they’ll also be the airmen called upon to take the F-35 to combat, whenever that call may come,” said Lt. Col. Darrin Dronoff, the director of Hill’s F-35 Program Integration Office.
Hill Air Force Base received its first F-35s in September 2015, with the 388th and 419th becoming the first Air Force wings to receive the 5th generation aircraft. The units were also the first to adopt the F-16. The plan is for one to two F-35s a month to be delivered to the base until it reaches its full complement of 72 F-35As.