F-35As at the Air Force’s first operational Lightning II base have started flying sorties in standard training formation to get ready for initial operational capability later this year. The jets, on May 2, began flying in routine four-ship combat training missions out of Hill AFB, Utah. Pilots from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings are relying on the jet’s troubled software to fly close together, evade simulated threats, and destroy targets, according to a 419th FW release. While Hill jets first flew in this formation in March to test the ability, the May 2 flights marked the beginning of the routine training exercises. “We’ve vetted and tested our ability to generate four-ships and doing so regularly will become routine, which is a significant step on the road to initial operational capability,” said Capt. Richard Palz, the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge, in the release. Hill will eventually house three F-35 squadrons, with 78 aircraft by the end of 2019. The Air Force expects to reach IOC by the end of this year. The program office recently fixed software glitches that have hindered test and training flights.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.