HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — The 388th Fighter Wing and 419th Fighter Wing formally welcomed the arrival of the F-35 Lightning II during a ceremony Oct. 14.
The event was hosted by Lockheed Martin, the aerospace company that designed and produced the aircraft, to mark the beginning of F-35 operations at the active duty 388th FW and Reserve 419th FW.
Although the first two combat-coded F-35s arrived here Sept. 2, with a third jet arriving later that month, this arrival ceremony gave Air Force leaders and Utah elected officials an opportunity to commemorate the historic event alongside the Airmen who will fly and maintain the aircraft.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate, called the F-35 a “groundbreaking weapons system” and said it will play a critical role in national defense.
“We are immensely blessed to live in a nation that protects the rights and liberties that we cherish,” Hatch said. “With the F-35, our liberties are even more secure.”
The senator also thanked the military members in attendance and called Hill AFB’s Airmen “the very best our nation has to offer.”
Lt. Gen. James Jackson, chief of Air Force Reserve and commander of Air Force Reserve Command, highlighted the 419th Fighter Wing’s mission at Hill AFB over the past 60 years, including Total Force milestones reached alongside its active-duty counterparts.
“The 388th and 419th Fighter Wings were the very first units to fly combat-coded F-16s,” Jackson said. “They continue to lead the way today with our newest generation fighter. Today we are building the future force we need.”
Hill’s fighter wings are also the first Air Force units to fly the operational F-35s, and both organizations expect to be combat-ready by fall of 2016. Pilots and maintainers from both wings are in various stages of training to fly and maintain the aircraft. Meanwhile, the wings will continue to fly and deploy the F-16s assigned here.
“You are surrounded by the best and brightest,” said Col. Bryan Radliff, 419th FW commander. “Our Airmen are dedicated to their craft with a single focus — to bring the F-35 to full operational capability.”
Radliff also thanked the community for supporting Hill’s Airmen and called the F-35 “the next chapter in American aviation exceptionalism.”
In June 2007, the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings began operating and maintaining Hill’s fleet of F-16s in a “Total Force” partnership aimed at increasing efficiency through shared equipment and resources and by optimizing the high experience levels and continuity of Reserve personnel.