HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — In response to Air Force senior leader priorities, Holloman Air Force Base’s 311th Fighter Squadron put their readiness and lethality to the test by deploying to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, for dissimilar air combat training with the F-35 Lightning II, April 22 to May 3, 2019.
Over 200 personnel, 16 F-16 Vipers and millions of dollars in equipment were moved nearly 850 miles after months of logistics planning and with only two weeks of physical preparation.
“It’s cool to see that we can pick up the squadron on a Monday, fly out 16 jets, land that same day and the next day we are flying normal operations like nothing has changed,” said 1st Lt. Connor Colas, 311th FS student pilot. “It prepares us for what we would be doing on future temporary duty assignments, exercises and deployments.”
Week one of the exercise consisted of adversarial training with the F-35, both student and instructor pilots had the opportunity to dog fight with the Air Force’s newest operational 5th generation fighter aircraft.
“Looking off your wing and seeing an F-35 gives you one of those ‘America is pretty cool’ moments,” said Colas. “We train against F-16s all the time at home, and don’t get to see the difference in performance (between different airframes). Seeing how good the F-16 is against, even the newest aircraft, is awesome and gives you a lot of confidence.”
In addition to flying as adversaries, 311th FS instructor pilots had the opportunity to operate as allies in week two of the exercise.
“The instructor pilots flew missions directly with the F-35 on the ‘good guy’ or blue air side,” said Capt. Danielle Park, 311th FS instructor pilot. “The students are getting to see exactly what goes into mission planning and debriefing, which is really important. Personally, I didn’t get to see that until my first Combat Air Force assignment. They’re getting to see a lot of important mission sets that they might not get to see (again) until later on in the CAF.”
Venom 19-01 also aligned with Hill’s Combat Showcase, which took place April 30 to May 1, 2019. Holloman’s F-16s flew alongside F-16s from Kunsan Air Base, Korea, and F-35’s from Hill’s 388th Fighter Wing and reserve 419th Fighter Wing.
This is the first time the 311th FS’s current Basic Course students have flown with a dissimilar airframe, an experience many seasoned pilots will not have until later in their careers.
“When I went through the B-Course, I didn’t fly against any dissimilar aircraft,” said Maj. David Abel, 311th FS instructor pilot. “The biggest benefit I’ve seen from us fighting the F-35 is not simply having F-16 pilots learn about the F-35; the F-35 pilots are learning about the things we can and can’t do. When they look to use F-16s in their fight they can see how to work with them, to make sure they get what they need.”
This is also the first time B-Course students from Holloman’s Flying Training Units have ever flown with the F-35.
“The 8th Fighter Squadron did an instructor pilot TDY with the F-35 in Oregon in the summer, but there were no B-Course students or brand new Viper pilots flying,” said Park.
Venom 19-01 did not just benefit B-Course students and instructor pilots, a variety of squadron support functions to include flight medicine, Aircrew Flight Equipment, operations, intelligence, scheduling, communications and maintenance traveled alongside the aircrew as they would in a combat deployment.
“The most impressive thing I’ve seen on this TDY is the team building,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Shulman, 311th FS commander. “Multiple people from multiple sections are working together to generate 174 sorties, (I’ve been able) to see people from all different backgrounds and all different squadrons work together to make that airplane fly. It’s been pretty awesome.”