HILL AIR FORCE BASE — It seems like you can count on it happening at least once a year — Top of Utah residents report hearing and, in some cases, feeling a loud boom.
More often than not, the sounds originate from the Utah Test and Training Range. As the Department of Defense’s largest block of supersonic training airspace and frequent explosive ordinance disposal site, the western Utah desert range is often the culprit when it comes to loud noises reverberating over the Wasatch Front.
But in a little more than a month, the range might start getting noisy again for a different reason.
Nathan Simmons, spokesman for the 388th Fighter Wing, said Hill Air Force Base fighter pilots will begin dropping bombs as part of routine training missions with the new F-35As. The missions will take place at the UTTR, which is approximately 80 miles west of Salt Lake City.
“We will begin weapon loading and deployment in the late February or early March time frame,” Simmons said.
The first two combat F-35s arrived at Hill in early September and have continued to funnel in at a rate of about one to two per month. Hill pilots began completing training sorties with the jet in late September, but nothing with bombs.
Col. David Lyons, commander of the 388th, recently told defense and aviation site Flightglobal that pilots simulate bomb droppings every day as part of their current training, “but to actually have something come off the airplane — we’ve not done that yet.”
Simmons said when the first bomb falls from the Lightning II, it won’t contain any explosive material. These nonexplosive bombs, called the inert GBU-12 Paveway IIs, will be the first dropped at the training range. However, explosive versions and another bomb called the GBU-31 will also quickly find their way into the rotation.
“We will continue to load and drop bombs (at the training range),” Simmons said. “That’s a mission we will carry forward for the rest of the time we fly the aircraft.”
According to a Hill fact sheet, the 500-pound laser-guided GBU-12 is drawn to laser energy reflected from targets. The bombs were heavily used during Operation Desert Storm, with nearly 4,500 dropped in the Gulf conflict.
Simmons said the bomb testing is a major item to mark off on the Air Force’s “Initial Operating Capability” checklist. IOC is met when Hill F-35s meet minimum combat operation requirements. The base hopes to qualify the F-35 for IOC by August.