This is the JSF’s first “Elephant Walk”.
According to the Hill Air Force Base FB page this is happening now: F-35A pilots from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wing prepare for takeoff as part of a combat power exercise happening now the airbase in Utah.
We can count as many as 35 F-35 Lightning II aircraft taxiing as part of what is usually dubbed an “Elephant Walk”.
During Elephant Walk exercises military aircraft (usually fully armed – but in the case of the F-35, the aircraft might carry some air-to-air missiles and bombs inside the weapons bays) taxi in close formation or in sequence right before a minimum interval takeoff and, depending on the purpose of the training event they then either take off or taxi back to the apron.
The exercise aims to confirm their ability to quickly employ a large force of jets against air and ground targets, and demonstrate the readiness and lethality of the F-35 Lightning II. As the first combat-ready F-35 units in the Air Force, the 388th and 419th FWs are ready to deploy anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice.
The 388th Fighter Wing and its Reserve associate 419th Fighter Wing, are the F-35 units that met or surpassed the list of criteria to be considered “combat ready” with the Lightning II back in 2016.
The first squadron declared to be operational (i.e. achieved the IOC) was the 34th Fighter Squadron that was required to have at least 12 airframes ready for deployment operating as a basic close air support and air interdiction and limited SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) platform. Along with other personnel, maintenance and support requirements the Air Force squadron was also expected to ensure that enough pilots are combat ready, and pass proper examination: as of Jul. 27, 2016, when IOC was declared, 21 pilots and 12 F-35A airframes could be deployed in theater. Based on the photographs, the combined 388th and 419th FW have now more than 30 stealth aircraft ready for combat operations.
Image credit: United States Air Force/Cynthia Griggs