The active duty 388th Fighter Wing and Reserve 419th Fighter Wing conducted a combat power exercise with a massive Elephant Walk on Jan. 6, launching 52 F-35A Lightning IIs in rapid succession. Hill AFB hosts, under the two Fighter Wings, four F-35A squadrons, with the active duty 4th, 34th, and 421st Fighter Squadrons and the Reserve’s 466th Fighter Squadron.
This is the second Elephant Walk staged by F-35As from Hill AFB. The first F-35A’s Elephant Walk was on November 2018 when 30 F-35A Lightning IIs were launched.
The fighter wings are home to 78 aircraft, the last arrived in mid-December 2019 more than four years since the first Lightning II arrived at the Utah base. Since the first arrival, Hill has completed more than 33,000 flying hours in 17,500 sorties. As the Air Force’s only combat-capable F-35A units, the wings must be prepared to launch any number of aircraft to support the national defense mission at a moment’s notice.
Last year, they began regularly supporting combat operations with the F-35A with consecutive deployments. From April to October 2019, they deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, and conducted combat operations in support of the Central Command mission in the region. In October, they departed on their second combat deployment. Currently, the wings fly 30-60 sorties per day from Hill’s flightline. During the exercise, Airmen launched roughly the same number of daily sorties, but they took off in quick 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 exercise was part of normal, scheduled training operations to demonstrate the ability to employ a large force of F-35As and not a response to any current events.