TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Six F-35A Lightning II from Eglin Air Force Base and more than 90 personnel are participating in the large-scale, total force Checkered Flag 17-1 exercise here Dec. 5-16.
The 33rd Fighter Wing’s F-35s bring another level of training and integration to the exercise, working alongside another fifth-generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor, as well as F-15E Strike Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons, HH-60G Pave Hawks and an E-3 Sentry. As a combat rehearsal for participating units, Checkered Flag is a unique opportunity for pilots, maintainers, air battle managers and intelligence to come together and practice in the same physical space.
“[We need to] train the way [we] fight. It’s good to get in there and start working as a team,” said Maj. Brad Zimmerman, 33rd Operations Support Squadron assistant chief of weapons. “I think the biggest pro of this exercise is [everyone] being part of the entire mission planning cycle from the briefing the day prior, to going out and flying, and then the debrief after. It’s been great to have that full circle experience and getting all the learning points out.”
When each of these units come together to practice flying combat sorties, they develop the relationships and tactics necessary to execute these mission sets successfully, as a team, in real-world engagements.
“I think anytime you are working with someone that you don’t work with on a daily basis, you have a lot to learn about them,” Zimmerman said in reference to the other participating units. “A lot of the minutiae that you have to get worked out, you can’t learn via video conferences and phone briefs. This is a great opportunity to get those things fixed and get them incorporated into the next day. I have seen a lot of improvement from today verses what we had day one. Every day we are progressing.”
The Eglin personnel are learning a lot about being in a deployed environment and enjoying their time in a different setting.
“The morale here has been very high,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Tilley, 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-35 avionics technician. “A lot of us feel like it is a nice break from home station. We are also learning a lot of lessons.”
In addition to the six F-35 working from Tyndall’s ramp, six more are launching from Eglin each day acting primarily as aggressors, “Red Air,” against the coalition of fighters at Tyndall, “Blue Air.” In the closing week of the exercise, these jets will also be augmenting with the “Blue Air” to make full use of the integration training.
“[We’re] getting between 60 and 90 aircraft airborne at one time with the tanker and AWACS support coupled with the off-station players and all of the coordination that goes into it. When that plan comes together at one point in time, it’s pretty cool to see,” Zimmerman said.