Check Out This Totally Stripped Thunderbird F-16C Taking Off From Hill AFB’s Taxiway

With its main runway down for repair, Hill AFB’s thin taxiway is being used by aircraft getting overhauled at the installation’s service centers.

byTyler Rogoway|
U.S. Homeland photo


The Air Force has released some cool shots of aircraft taking off from Hill AFB's main taxiway while the base's runway undergoes a deep rehabilitation. Most of the jets based at Hill have dispersed to other air bases in the region or are on deployment overseas while the runway work is being done—most notably, multiple squadrons of F-35s. But the base's critical depot-level maintenance centers that make up the Ogden Air Logistics Complex and support much of the greater Air Force's fleet have to continue their work. So, the taxiway is being used as an improvised runway for these purposes, including function check flights to test aircraft systems after deep overhauls. 

These processes often include stripping a plane's old paint job and applying a new one. For the Thunderbirds' Block 52 F-16s, with their highly unique and iconic red, white, and blue paint scheme, even after the jets are stripped, certain parts of the planes still give away the fact that they belong to the elite team.

U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd

C-130s, which receive deep maintenance at the base, are the largest aircraft allowed to use the temporary and narrow runway. F-16s, F-35s, F-22s, and A-10s are among the other types that also get serviced at Hill.

Hill AFB., Google Earth

A news release from Hill AFB discussed the unique arrangement with the taxiway, it stated the following:

“In normal training you don’t train for landing on such a narrow taxiway,” said F-22 Raptor test pilot Maj. Philip Johnson. “We did a certification program in the squadron, which consisted of ground training and one flight where we landed on the taxiway before we could accomplish any functional check flights in any non-airworthy aircraft.”

At more than two miles long, the taxiway is plenty long enough, it’s just quite narrow in most areas and isn’t as smooth a surface as a runway is designed to be.

Using the taxiway also meant landing and taking off much closer to buildings that are located just to the west side of the taxiway, which caused crosswinds to affect the aircraft in a much different way.

With operating hours ranging from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., summer brought fair weather allowing the pilots to operate in and out of the base without the use of instrument landing aides.

“We were all surprised how easy is was to become comfortable to land and takeoff from the taxiway,” Johnson said.

A C-130 touches down on the temporary runway which sits very close to the tower and also closer to the hangars and other facilities that line the west side of the base. , U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd
F-22s get worked on and get deep overhauls to their delicate stealthy coatings at Hill AFB., U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd
An Aussie F-35A using the taxiway-runway. The heart of the F-35's sustainment and support is based at Hill AFB., (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd
A very fresh looking A-10 takes off from the temporary runway after receiving depot-level servicing. , U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd
A Block 30 F-16C belonging to the Air Force Reserve in Fort Worth, Texas blasts by Hill's tower., U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd
A Thunderbird F-16C executes a smokey low approach over the makeshift runway. The aircraft is being flown by a test pilot who will check out the plane before returning it to the high-profile unit., (U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd
A spectacular shot of the same flyby., U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd

The runway work is supposedly wrapping up soon. So, Hill's residents will slowly migrate back to the base to utilize the refurbished runway under normal operating parameters. But the use of the taxiway as a runway is quite topical seeing as the USAF is eyeing working from austere strips and rapidly building-up their capacity to support flight operations in far-flung locales. Maybe some of the flight operations from Hill's taxiway will inform future contingency plans. 

In the meantime, the return to operation of the installation's 13,550-foot runway is certain to be a welcome reality.  

Contact the author: