By 33rd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 13, 2019
An F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 58th Fighter Squadron awaits permission to taxi as an F-22 Raptor assigned to the 27th Fighter Squadron takes off in the background, Dec. 4, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)
The U.S. Air Force announced on May 9th, the 33rd Fighter Wing, Eglin AFB, Fla., is the preferred alternative to receive an additional F-35A training squadron of 24 F-35A Lightning IIs.
With an existing F-35 Academic Training Center containing classrooms and simulators, airspace and range capacity suitable for F-35 missions, maintenance facilities, and minimum runway length of 8,000 feet, Eglin AFB is the most cost-effective choice needing no MILCON funding.
“This is exciting news for the Nomads. Responsibly capitalizing on existing capacity and resources by growing the F-35 mission at Eglin is the right thing to do,” said Col. Paul Moga, 33 FW commander.
In 2009, Eglin AFB was the location of initial joint training hosting U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps F-35s. Five years ago the U.S. Marine Corps moved its F-35B pilot training mission to Beaufort, SC.
This summer the U.S. Navy will relocate their F-35C pilot training to Lemoore, Cali., leaving excess capacity the Air Force would leverage to accommodate the new F-35A squadron. The addition of a new squadron will remain under the authorized number of F-35s from the 2009 Environmental Impact Study.
“Since 2014, we’ve been anticipating and awaiting the opportunity to grow to our full potential with the F-35 program here,” said Moga. “The increase in F-35A pilot production will better posture us help mitigate the Air Force’s fighter pilot shortage and grow towards 386 operational squadrons by 2030.”
The proposed action would be contingent upon moving the F-22 Formal Training Unit mission, which relocated to Eglin AFB in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, and its assigned F-22/T-38 aircraft and personnel to Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. The Secretary of the Air Force selected Langley AFB as the sole candidate base on Mar. 15, 2019. A final decision will be made after the completion of the environmental analysis, which is expected in the spring of 2021.
“While, pending a favorable outcome to the environmental assessment and the departure of the F-22 mission, we won’t see these aircraft for a couple of years, it will be a huge a win for both the Air Force and the local community,” said Moga. “We will continue to train, develop and graduate the world’s finest. And right now, every F-35 pilot counts more than ever.”