Air Force swaps F-35A crews in flexibility exercise

March 22 (UPI) — U.S. Air Force personnel performed their first crew swap, using F-35A Lightning II fighter planes, this week at Hill AFB, Utah, the Air Force announced.

In the training exercise, a pilot takes off, completes his mission, lands and takes on fuel while another pilot and crew take over the cockpit of the same plane.

The action reduces maintenance time and allows the plane to quickly become airborne and in use again. In wartime, it can increase combat flexibility, as the aircraft quickly returns to service.

“During home-station flying, rapid crew swaps will allow for more sorties in a condensed period of time, which will become increasingly important as three full squadrons begin flying here,” Maj. Caleb Guthmann, F-35 pilot and 388th Fighter Wing director of staff, said in a press release.

The exercise is one of several practiced by the Air Force to accelerate rapid return of planes to the air.

In March, the branch carried out its first rapid refueling, known as Fast Air Refueling Point, of an F-35A plane at Cannon AFB, N.M. An MC-130J refueling plane landed at the base, followed by an F-35A. Fuel lines were quickly set up, with fuel transferred to the F-35A before it took off again.

“Other aircraft like bombers, tankers, helicopters, and twin engine fighters have been doing ‘hot crew swaps’ for some time,” said Col. Michael Miles, 388th Maintenance Group commander at Hill AFB. “Until now, it hasn’t been safe to do with a single engine fighter, but the F-35’s maintenance-friendly design provided Airmen here an opportunity to develop this capability.”

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