The U.S. Air Force’s first overseas training deployment of the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35A Lightning II went smoothly and provided an opportunity to test the new fighter jet’s procedures and logistics and interact with allied forces, according to representatives of the units that conducted the mission.
Eight F-35As from Hill Air Force Base in Utah recently traveled to Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England, where they flew with other fighters, including U.S. Air Force F-15Cs and F-15Es, British Eurofighter Typhoons, and Dutch and Norwegian F-16s.
The deployment included the F-35’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), which provides aircraft health and maintenance action information. Some of the F-35As also visited Ämari Air Base in Estonia and Graf Ignatievo Air Base in Bulgaria.
“The trip went as planned, and we are extremely happy with the results,” Col. David Lyons, commander of the 388th Fighter Wing, told reporters during a conference call. “We didn’t have any major hiccups.”
Only four of 84 scheduled sorties had to be canceled – two due to unfinished maintenance, one due to a helmet glitch and one due to a throttle grip that had to be replaced.
“We’re experiencing reliability rates with this aircraft that are unheard of in our legacy fleets,” said Chief Master Sgt. Benjamin Carpenter, superintendent of the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. “Sure, we ran into some little snags here and there, but really what that’s allowed us to do is to be able to tweak our deployment footprint going forward so we can be more effective. For example, any time we get to deploy aircraft to a forward location, we find out that we maybe potentially need a few more tools that we didn’t think we would have needed.”
Although the F-35 program has grappled with software problems for years, Lyons said “we didn’t have any software issues” during the deployment.
About 200 airmen participated in the deployment, which began April 15 and ended May 7. Fifteen employees from Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman [NOC] and Pratt & Whitney, part of United Technologies Corp. [UTX], supported the mission.
Several more high-profile activities are on the horizon for Hill F-35As. Hill and Luke Air Force Base in Arizona each plan to send an F-35A to the Paris Air Show next month. Lockheed Martin pilots will fly the jets.
In addition, Hill F-35As will participate for the first time in the Combat Archer and Combat Hammer weapons exercises, which take place in August at the base. And in September, Hill’s 4th Fighter Squadron, which currently flies F-16s, is scheduled to receive its first F-35A.
The Air Force declared the F-35A ready for combat in August 2016. It has received more than 100 of the 1,763 aircraft it plans to buy.