Reservists lead F-35 ops on drill weekend

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — July 9 – 10 marks the first time reservists in the 419th Fighter Wing conducted F-35 operations independent of their active duty counterparts.

Reserve Airmen have been integral to the F-35 mission at Hill AFB, working side by side with the active duty 388th Fighter Wing since the first aircraft arrived in September 2015. But this weekend put the reservists’ training to the test as they took the lead on F-35 operations and maintenance.

“Sortie production is always challenging, but we’ve been preparing for this for almost a year,” said Senior Master Sgt. Eric Engel, superintendent for the wing’s 466th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. “We were ready for the opportunity to prove our proficiency with the new airframe, and that’s exactly what we did.”

Reserve pilots and maintainers turned 10 sorties Saturday during the wing’s monthly drill weekend.  

“Not only did we produce all our sorties, but we also addressed additional maintenance needs,” Engel said. “At the end of the weekend, the fleet was healthier than when we started Saturday morning, which is always our goal.”

The 419th currently has about 70 trained F-35 maintainers, including crew chiefs, weapons loaders, and avionics. The unit expects to have about 400 reservists trained by 2019, along with 24 pilots.

“As reservists, we don’t have the ability to bring in qualified F-35 maintainers from other bases, we have to grow our own,” Engel said. “Since the first jet arrive, we’ve continually sent members to training and had about 30 reservists on full-time orders to gain the proficiency needed to support flying operations organically.” 

The 388th and 419th FWs fly and maintain the Air Force’s newest fighter jet in a Total Force partnership, which capitalizes on the strengths of the active duty and Reserve components. Hill AFB is slated for three operational F-35 squadrons and a total of 78 aircraft by the end of 2019.

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