Hill Inaugurates First F-35 Squadron

The 388th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah, activated its first F-35A Lightning II squadron in a ceremony on base last week, becoming the first operational Air Force unit to fly combat-coded F-35s. Lt. Col. George Watkins received the 34th Fighter Squadron guidon to command the new unit on July 17, according to a July 20 base release. The unit is slated to be one of three Active Duty F-35 squadrons at Hill, supported operationally by Air Force Reserve Command’s 419th FW. The 34th FS is scheduled to receive its first F-35 airframe in September and grow to 15 aircraft by next summer in time for the Air Force’s planned initial operating capability. “There’s a lot of work to be done before we get that first jet,” said Watkins, who noted airmen are working on an F-35 maintenance plan and have created a flying-hours program for the aircraft. The squadron was formerly one of Hill’s F-16 units, and stood down in 2010 as part of a downsizing. “This has got to be one of the finest days of my military career,” said Col. David Lyons, current 388th commander and former commander of the 34th. “To see this squadron shut down in 2010 was heartbreaking, but somebody, somewhere had the good sense to bring it back to duty.”