52 US F-35 fighter jets at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in combat power drill. Copyright US Air Force/R. Nial Bradshaw

US Shows Off Air Force Strength As 52 F-35 Fighter Jets Fill Runway in 'Power' Exercise

Dramatic picture shows runway packed with fully-armed stealth fighter jets at Hill Air Force base

52 US F-35 fighter jets at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in combat power drill. Copyright US Air Force/R. Nial Bradshaw

This is the picture that demonstrates the impressive air power of the US Air Force.

The image, which Forces.net first published in January 2020, created a heated discussion and trending topic online at the time - as more than 50 armed F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jets lined up to launch in rapid succession after taxiing on to the runway.

Here, we take a look back at the moment that America displayed its might in the skies.

The exercise was a test of pilots’ ability to deploy en masse and while the air force was keen to point out that the pre-scheduled operation was not carried out in response to current events, it comes amid rising tensions between the US and Iran with one air force unit tweeting:

“We’re ready to fly, fight, and win”.

The 52 F-35A jets, which are understood to be worth about £3.2 billion, took off from Utah’s Hill Air Force Base during the combat power exercise which the US Air Force said was part of normal, scheduled training operations, despite coinciding with heightened tensions in the Middle East following the death of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in an US air strike on January 3.

52 US F-35 fighter jets at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in combat power drill. Copyright US Air Force/R. Nial Bradshaw
The 52 F-35A aircraft lined up at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Picture: US Air Force/R. Nial Bradshaw

A US air force spokesperson, speaking at the time, said: “Currently, the wings fly 30-60 sorties per day from Hill’s flightline.

“During the exercise, airmen launched roughly the same number of daily sorties, but they took off in quick intervals.

“Launching aircraft from multiple squadrons simultaneously presents various challenges and allows the wings to evaluate the capabilities of maintenance professionals, as well as pilots and command and control teams.”

Fighter pilots with the 388th Fighter Wing and Reserve 419th FW, which command 78 aircraft of the US Air Force, carried out the exercise of combat power on January 6, launching all 52 F-35s in rapid succession.

The air force says that, as the service’s only combat-capable F-35A units, the wings must be prepared to launch any number of aircraft to support national defence at a moment’s notice.

Last year, the wings began regularly supporting combat operations with the F-35A in consecutive deployments.

Posting a message and video on Twitter as the exercise took place, a spokesperson for the 419th Fighter Wing said: “Today we launched about 50 5-35s in rapid succession.

“Part of a long-planned combat power exercise with @388fw, we pushed the boundaries and tested our Airmen’s ability to deploy @thef35 en masse.

“We’re ready to fly, fight, and win.”

One Twitter message also warned the local community around the air base that it would likely hear some extra jet noise during the exercise, saying: “Thanks for your understanding!”

The first F-35A arrived at the Hill Air Force base about four years ago and the fighter wing units have been training pilots and carrying out large scale combat exercises ever since.

The wings have also supported two Middle East combat deployments.

They deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates from April to October 2019, conducting combat operations in support of the General Command mission in the region.

* Cover photograph courtesy of the US Air Force/R. Nial Bradshaw.