HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The arrival of the Air Force’s first two F-35 combat jets in Utah on Sept. 2 marks a new era for fighter aircraft and Hill Air Force Base.
Here are five reasons why you should care about the F-35:
1. The pair of jets, tails numbered 5071 and 5072, represent the culmination of a nearly six-year process that makes Hill Air Force Base home to the Air Force’s first operational F-35 wing. Hill was selected for the post in December 2013 after a four-year environmental process. Since then, the base has been preparing to house what will eventually be 72 Lightning IIs.
2. The first F-35 fighter squadron has been in force since July, in preparation for the jets’ arrival.
The 34th Fighter Squadron — affectionately known as the Rude Rams — was reactivated on July 17 at Hill, marking the beginning of the F-35’s combat era for both the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings.
3. The F-35s will be delivered to Hill at a rate of just more than one per month until August 2019.
Ryan Breitkruetz, F-35 senior site manager at Hill, told the Standard-Examiner in August that the fighter squadron should reach “Initial Operational Capability,” which means it meets the minimum capabilities to use the jet for normal combat operations, between August and December 2016. By 2019, more than 260 active-duty positions will have been added to the 388th.
4. The F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in the Department of Defense’s history.
Exact cost figures vary, but the per-unit cost averages over $100 million across the three variants of the jet. By contrast, the F-16 cost about $17 million per plane in 1998.
5. The F-35 is considered to be the standard-bearer for increased levels of automation in manned aircraft.
The jet contains over 8 million lines of computer code, including advanced automation for sensors, voice recognition, and missile and threat management systems. The ability to control a fleet of drones from the cockpit is an actual possibility in Air Force future, thanks to the jet.
Reporter Mitch Shaw contributed to this report.