As ‘Red Flag 17-1’ winds up, Hill Air Force Base F-35A pilots have started talking about their participation for the first time in this high-end exercise.
The exercise, which runs from January 23-February 10, involves the Reservists of the 419th FW, whom we reported on in Combat Aircraft back in our February issue.
‘Most of the work takes place before we get in the air, and it’s in these planning sessions where mission success actually begins,’ says Lt Col David DeAngelis, Reserve F-35A pilot and commander of the 419th Operations Group, detachment 1.
‘It’s intense participating in an exercise of this magnitude,’ adds Maj Jayson Rickard, a Reserve F-35A pilot with the 466th Fighter Squadron ‘Diamondbacks’. Rickard was handpicked to serve as the first F-35A mission commander at Red Flag and said the exercise offers exceptional preparation for a future air-to-air ‘shooting war’.Maj James Schmidt, an active-duty F-35A pilot with the 34th Fighter Squadron adds: ‘Thankfully, the F-35A’s ability to show us where the friendly assets are, where the enemies are, and know that they can’t see us gives it the lethal advantage to locate threats and targets deep in enemy territory.’
A lot of focus is being placed on the training burden that fifth-generation fighters bring with them. It’s very difficult to properly tax and challenge an F-35 pilot in live flying, and there will be an increasing need to mission-rehearse ‘full up’ in the simulator. However, live flying still represents a crucial element of readiness.
Speaking to Combat Aircraft ahead of ‘Red Flag’, Lt Col DeAngelis said: ‘We are spinning up our night operations and starting some low-altitude flying. The low-altitude part comes mostly from an F-16-type multi-role perspective, and there might be times when weather forces us to go low. We were previously restricted to 1,000ft but now we can get down to 300-500ft.’