Northern Lighting is a large-scale, joint training exercise hosted at Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center in central Wisconsin. The main emphasis of the exercise is the integration 4th and 5th generation aircraft across the different branches of the military. It was originally held in the early 2000s, but has grown in recent years to become a significant event in the area, and a yearly treat for Midwestern avgeeks.
Despite COVID restrictions and adjustments, the 2020 version of Northern Lightning hosted over 1,000 members of the National Guard, Air Force, Army, and Navy. The exercise ran from August 10th to August 21st.
We were allowed access to the Volk Field ANGB airfield during the first week of the exercise. Aircraft from four military units and one private contractor used Volk as their home base during the exercise:
- F-35A Lightning IIs (Vermont ANG – 158th Fighter Wing)
- F-18E Super Hornets (NAS Lemoore – VFA-151 Vigilantes)
- F-22 Raptors (Langley AFB – 1st Fighter Wing)
- T-38 Talons (Langley AFB – 1st Fighter Wing)
- L-159 Honey Badgers (Draken International)
This was actually the first ever deployment of the Vermont Air National Guard following their transition to the F-35. Other units, particularly the Wisconsin Air National Guard, also participated but were based elsewhere.
View more of our photos in the Northern Lightning 2020 album in our photo gallery
The typical schedule consisted of a morning and afternoon sortie, each with a mass launch and mass arrival period about 60-90 minutes later. The actual aerial action happened north of Volk in a complex of Military Operations Areas (MOAs). Some of the participating aircraft did show up on ADSB tracking.
We would like to thank PAO Major Matt Wunderlin and the rest of the Volk Field staff for their hospitality!