Squadron re-activated at Hill Air Force Base to fly F-35A

Posted at 8:05 PM, Jul 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-17 23:43:09-04

LAYTON, Utah -- Five years ago, the 34th Fighter Squadron of the U.S. Air Force was taken out of active duty to save money.  Friday, it was put back into action at Hill Air Force Base in Layton, getting combat-ready to fly the Air Forces’ newest fighter jet: the F-35A.

"It's like flying the future.  The growth potential in this airplane is amazing,” said Col. David Lyons.

He handed off command of the 34th at the re-activation ceremony on the base.

"I guess the hardest part about accepting command is worrying that you're going to let down the people that you're leading,” said Lt. Col. George Watkins, the man taking command of the 34th.

Watkins will lead the squadron for the next two years, on its way to growing to 72 planes by 2019.  The first plane is due to arrive around September 11 of this year.

Between 35 and 40 pilots will be trained to fly the new combat ready jets.  The planes are designed to take on surface-to-air missile sites and other anti-aircraft defenses.

"I've been on four combat deployments, so I have about 840 combat hours in the F-16 over Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya," said Watkins of his personal experience.

He’ll use that experience to prepare his airmen to follow him into battle.

"Talking about what it's like, what it's like to go to a place where you're not welcome, where rockets are coming over the fence every day, and just getting them mentally prepared to do that," he said.

To accommodate the growing squadron, Hill Air Force Base will grow by roughly 260 people.

"It's great for Utah, you know, those people buy houses and cars and they eat dinner and contribute to the local economy," Watkins said.