For the first time ever, a US Air Force F-35A combat unit dropped real bombs during a training exercise, according to an Air Force statement.
“This is significant because we’re building the confidence of our pilots by actually dropping something off the aeroplane instead of simulating weapon employment,” Lt. Col. George Watkins said of the exercise.
F-35’s have dropped weapons in the past, but this marks the first time one of the actual jets set to deploy once the Air Force declares Initial Operational Capability, or IOC. The Air Force plans to declare the F-35A combat ready between August and December of this year.
Airmen from the 388th and 419th fighter wings installed and dropped the weapon, a GBU-12 laser-guided bomb, on February 25 at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
“The pilots and weapons loaders in the 388th and 419th fighter wings are perfecting their skills not only to prove aircraft capabilities, but they will also be the Airmen called upon to take the F-35 to combat, whenever that call may come,” Lt. Col. Darrin Dronoff, the director of Hill’s F-35 Program Integration Office, said in the statement.
Though the F-35 has been plagued with expensive setbacks and operational problems, the Air Force plans to test the F-35 in formations of four, a standard configuration in combat zones, as early as March, according to the Air Froce’s statement..
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