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F-16s train alongside F-35s

An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off while two F-35 Lightning IIs taxi on the flightline in a training mission April 24, 2014, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. F-16s from the 419th and 388th Fighter Wings from Hill AFB, Utah, conducted their first training missions alongside the U.S. Air Force’s newest fighter aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Christina Judd)

An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off while two F-35 Lightning IIs taxi during a training mission April 24, 2014, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. F-16s from the 419th and 388th Fighter Wings from Hill AFB, Utah, conducted their first training missions alongside the Air Force’s newest fighter aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Christina Judd)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots from Hill Air Force Base's 419th and 388th Fighter Wings took to the sky here April 24 for their first training missions alongside the F-35A Lightning II, the Air Force's newest fighter aircraft.

Hill AFB's F-16s flew air-to-air combat training missions with F-35As assigned to Eglin AFB's 33rd Fighter Wing.

"This was a great opportunity for our F-16s to operate with the F-35," said Lt. Col. David Castaneda, the 419 FW's 466th Fighter Squadron commander. "This mission allowed us to train for seamless integration of the Air Force's fourth and fifth generation fighters and provided invaluable insight into the future of fighter operations at Hill AFB." 

In December 2013, Hill AFB was named the Air Force's first operational basing location for the F-35A. The active-duty 388th FW and Air Force Reserve 419th FW will fly and maintain the aircraft in a total-force partnership. While the wings already work together at home station, training as one element alongside Eglin AFB's 33rd Fighter Wing mirrors their real-world mission.

"We are a total-force integration operation," said Maj. Jayson Rickard, the assistant director of operations in the 466th FS. "Everything we do back home and when we deploy is side-by-side with our active-duty counterparts. This is very representative of what we would do in combat."

The F-35A combines advanced capabilities of stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully-fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment.

"I really enjoyed flying with the F-35s here and it was great to see its impressive set of capabilities up close," said Capt. Alex Turner, a 388th FW pilot.

On Friday, F-16 maintainers from Hill AFB will also take part in an F-35A immersion to include an in-depth overview of ALIS - the Autonomic Logistics Information System, which is a one-stop shop for a broad range of integrated high-tech capabilities including maintenance prognostics, supply chain management and technical data for the aircraft.

The operational flying mission of the F-35A continues a long tradition of firsts for Hill AFB's fighter wings. The 388th FW was the first operational unit to receive the F-16 in 1979, while the 419th FW was the first Reserve unit to receive the jet in 1983.

"The F-35 is going to be an important aircraft for the future of the Air Force," said Tech. Sgt. David Sudak, a 419th FW crew chief. "It will provide flexibility both for maintenance and aircrews. The new computer system seems to be more integrated. It's going to make our job a lot easier."

"I look forward to seeing what similarities there are on the two jets," said Senior Airman Kimber Kreamer, an 388th FW crew chief. "I love working on the F-16, so I'm anxious to apply that knowledge to the F-35 at Hill (AFB)."

Hill AFB is slated to receive its first operational F-35A in late 2015. Planning is currently underway for three operational F-35A squadrons at the base and aircraft deliveries are expected to be phased in over a three-year period with full conversion anticipated by March 2019.

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