The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped the F-35A Lightning II fighter wings at Hill Air Force Base in Utah from flying.
According to the Air Force, the active duty and reserve wings are still training and are executing “segmented” flying operations. This means that the 421st Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Squadron and aircraft maintenance units are swapping out each week and remaining at home in their down time — with the exception of certain tasks like grocery shopping and medical appointments.
Given that the 34th Fighter Squadron has been deployed since November supporting U.S. Central Command at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, Hill Air Force Base said that this “work/restricted-movement schedule allows separation between groups of Airmen who may be needed to deploy at any time.”
The base also said that shared equipment is being sanitized regularly, and that the squadrons have adopted new plane-side preparation procedures to ensure pilots and crew chiefs practice social distancing.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports Utah has nearly 300 cases of COVID-19, the Air Force says there has only been one case at Hill Air Force Base.
Hill’s 388th and 419th Fighter Wings reached “full warfighting capability” in January, after both wings received fully trained pilots and maintainers, along with its last aircraft delivery in December. In total, the wings have 78 aircraft.
Although training and multiple military exercises have been scaled back or canceled due to COVID-19, Pentagon leaders don’t anticipate that readiness will be negatively impacted.
“I think overall for the U.S. military, I think we will have moderate to low levels of readiness impact,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley told reporters Tuesday.
“There will be an impact on readiness, but I think it will be on the lower end as opposed to significant,” Milley added.