July 12 (UPI) -- Idaho's Mountain Home Air Force Base is now the location of the largest off-station operation of F-35 II fighter planes, the U.S. Air Force noted on Friday.
Seventeen of the planes arrived from Hill AFB, Utah, as the Utah base undergoes runway repairs, and seven more planes in the squadron are expected soon as the aircraft are built by Lockheed Martin and delivered. Two other squadrons are currently on duty at Al Dhara Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, and in Europe with the Theater Security Package.
The European operation has been centered since June at Aviano Air Base in Italy, where maintenance personnel of F-35A fighter planes have improved versatility under an innovative new program. Blended Operational Lightning Technicians, or BOLTs, from Hill AFB, Utah, are currently made their 388th Fighter Wing the first to be qualified in six different aspects of F-35A maintenance.
In May, the Air Force deployed F-35A planes to the Middle East for the first time.
The challenge for the 34th Fighter Squadron at Mountain Home AFB, in addition to daily flying and maintenance, has been the balance of personnel and training, since required training, like F-35A simulators and maintenance aids, are only available at Hill AFB.
"We've been rotating people on the ops side every one or two weeks and less frequently on the maintenance side," said Lt. Col. Christopher White, 34th FS director of operations. "It's been a challenge, but we're ready if we need to break glass."