November 30, 2018

Flying High for the Bird’s Eye

Staff Sgt Jenna Bigham
Luke AFB, Ariz.

Pilots from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings taxi F-35As on the runway in preparation for a combat power exercise Nov. 19, 2018, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. During the exercise wings confirmed their ability to employ a large force of jets against air and ground targets, demonstrating 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 sights and sounds of air power filled the skies of Utah, as 35 F-35As were launched in a combat power exercise on November 19, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

The exercise was the first of its kind for the F-35A, and demonstrated the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings’ ability to quickly employ a large force of jets against air and ground targets.

“It demonstrated the readiness and lethality of the F-35 units in the Air Force, and that the 388th and 419th Fighter Wing are ready to deploy anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee, 2nd Audio Visual Squadron visual production photographer, Hill AFB.

The 56th Fighter Wing is known for training the world’s greatest fighter pilots, so it comes as no surprise that most of the F-35 pilots who flew in the exercise received their initial training at Luke Air Force Base. But the opportunities for our Airmen to excel did not end there.

While not everyone is able to witness these events in person, taking photo and video imagery is important for historical purposes and essential in communicating to internal and public audiences.

“The imagery helps tell the story of the mission and its purpose,” said Lee.

Obtaining the imagery takes coordination and support from various units. That’s where the 309th Fighter Squadron from Luke Air Force Base came in to assist.

“We flew 2 F-16D aircraft to provide combat camera support for aerial photography,” said Maj. Daniel Wynn, 309th Fighter Squadron chief of weapons and tactics. “The range and airspace were beautiful, and we got the opportunity for some outstanding photographs.”

A formation of F-35A Lightning IIs, from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings refuel over the Utah Test and Training Range as part of a combat power exercise on Nov. 19, 2018.

“This event also allowed our maintenance team an opportunity to get off-station to launch and recover jets in a cold weather environment,” said Maj Bradley Sullivan, 309th Fighter Squadron director of operations.

However, when the final product was published, what was not visible were the unique challenges that were overcome through teamwork.

“The largest challenge was coordinating with an outside agency for Ops Support and ensuring we were legal to fly the cameramen,” said Wynn. “Once we got the proper paperwork, the hardest part was maneuvering in relation to 38 other aircraft to get decent photos while not being a traffic conflict.”

Lee added, “I can’t just move closer to the subject at my own will to compose the shot I’m trying to achieve. Communication with the pilot is key in understanding if the shot I want is achievable and being ready when the pilot performs the maneuver. They helped us communicate with the F-35 pilots to take full advantage of every shot and were willing to let us guide them through a variety of formations, even going into an inverted flying position to get the shot.”

The resulting “bird’s eye” imagery speaks of the teamwork involved in documenting such a large scale exercise.

“We wouldn’t have gotten the imagery we did without their full support. It was a true team effort,” said Lee.

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