HomeNewsArticle Display

Largest Checkered Flag exercise wraps up at Tyndall

F-15 aerial refueling

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over the Gulf of Mexico during Checkered Flag 21-2, May 12, 2021. Checkered Flag is a large-scale aerial exercise designed to integrate fourth and fifth-generation airframes to enhance mobility, deployment, and employment capabilities of aviators and maintainers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stefan Alvarez)

An Airmen prepares an F-22 for flight

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Riley Pinkerton, 325th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, performs preflight checks on an F-22 Raptor at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, May 17, 2021. The F-22, assigned to the 43rd Fighter Squadron, Tyndall AFB, Florida, participated in Checkered Flag 21-2, a large-scale aerial exercise designed to integrate fourth and fifth-generation airframes to enhance mobility, deployment, & employment capabilities of U.S. Air Force and Navy aviators and maintainers.. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Betty R. Chevalier)

Man loading a missile onto an aircraft

A U.S. Air Force Airman with the 34th Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, loads an M-120 missile during Weapons System Evaluation Program 21-8 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, May 11, 2021. Checkered Flag 21-2 was held in coordination with the 53rd Wing’s WSEP East 21-8, run by the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group located at Tyndall. Holding these exercises together allowed participating units to test both air-to-ground and air-to-air capability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tiffany Price)

Two men sit at a computer

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class William Cunningham, 81st Air Control Squadron weapons director, left, and Drew Buckingham, 81st ACS live technician, right, monitor the airspace during a simulation at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, May 7, 2021. The 81st ACS simulated having a large number of aircraft in the Gulf Range Complex at once in order to prepare for over 70 joint aircraft that participated in the Checkered Flag 21-2 exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cheyenne Lewis)

Man using a ladder to climb into a plane

U.S. Air Force Capt. “Murf” Zillweger, 34th Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II pilot, climbs into an F-35 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, May 20, 2021.The 34th FS participated in iteration 21-2 of Checkered Flag, a large-scale aerial exercise hosted by Tyndall designed to integrate fourth and fifth generation airframes and enhance the capabilities of aviators. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tiffany Price)

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II takes off

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II, assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, takes off during Checkered Flag 21-2 at Tyndall AFB, Florida, May 11, 2021. The 34th FS participated alongside several U.S. Air Force and Navy units during Checkered Flag and Weapons Systems Evaluation Program East 21-8, hosted by the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group. The exercises focused on enhancing fighter interoperability as well as live-fire tests and training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Brad Sturk)

Men hold a missile over their heads

U.S. Navy Seamen assigned to the Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 103, Naval Air Station Oceana , Virginia, prepare to load an AIM-9 missile during Weapons System Evaluation Program 21-8 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, May 11, 2021. Checkered Flag 21-2 was held in coordination with the 53rd Wing’s WSEP East 21-8, run by the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group located at Tyndall. Holding these exercises together allowed participating units to test both air-to-ground and air-to-air capability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tiffany Price)

A U.S. Navy E-2D Advanced Hawkeye takes off

A U.S. Navy E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, assigned to the Airborne Command and Control Squadron (VAW) 121, Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, takes off during Checkered Flag 21-2 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, May 11, 2021. Checkered Flag is a large-force aerial exercise held at Tyndall, which fosters readiness and interoperability through the incorporation of fourth and fifth-generation aircraft in combat training. The 21-2 iteration of the exercise was held May 10-21, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Brad Sturk)

Boom operator

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Sage, 328th Aerial Refueling Squadron boom operator, provides fuel to an aircraft over the Gulf of Mexico during Checkered Flag 21-2, May 12, 2021. The 21-2 iteration of the Checkered Flag exercise involved more than 115 aircraft and 2,000 personnel from nine Air Force and Navy units, training together in approximately 25 aerial events (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stefan Alvarez)

U.S. Air Force Airman stands on top of aircraft
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 10 of 11

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jerek Hill, 336th Fighter Squadron crew chief, assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, screws down a panel on an F-15E Strike Eagle during Checkered Flag 21-2 at Tyndall AFB, Florida, May 13, 2021. Over 70 aircraft and 2,000 joint personnel came to Tyndall for Checkered Flag to train and prepare for the Immediate Response Force. The 21-2 iteration of the exercise was held May 10-21, 2021. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Brad Sturk)

F-22 takes off
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 11 of 11

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor assigned to the 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, takes off for Checkered Flag 21-2 at Eglin AFB, Florida, May 17, 2021. More than 2,000 joint personnel and 115 aircraft across the U.S. Navy and Air Force convened in the Florida panhandle to participate in the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Betty R. Chevalier)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

The largest Checkered Flag exercise held to-date wrapped up at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, May 21, 2021.

Checkered Flag, one of the Department of Defense’s largest air-to-air exercises, is a two-week long, large-scale aerial exercise designed to integrate fourth and fifth-generation airframes to enhance mobility, deployment, & employment capabilities of aviators and maintainers.

“Checkered Flag is focused on air dominance execution,” said Lt Col. “Hoolio” Orsua, Air Combat Command Exercise Branch, Checkered Flag director. “We train on defensive counter air [DCA] conflicts, which [simulate] our forces getting attacked, so [we practice] how we would posture our forces to defend those assets.”

Checkered Flag 21-2, which started May 10, focused on integration of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy fleets, to include fighter, tanker, electronic warfare and command and control aircraft. More than 115 aircraft and 15 joint squadrons from across the country participated in the exercise, with 71 of those aircraft and 2,000 personnel operating out of Tyndall.

“These units are integrating different levels of aircraft,” Orsua said. “We have multiple F-22s [and] Strike Eagles and those aircraft would be expected to fight together in real world DCA conflicts, but they don’t train together frequently. Checkered Flag allows these units to [perfect] fighter integration across these platforms.”

The location of Tyndall provides a premier site for Checkered Flag. With unhindered access to more than 180,000 square miles of airspace over the Gulf of Mexico, participants can take off and get into the fight quickly. 

“What makes Checkered Flag so unique and special is Tyndall,” Orsua said. “We don’t have any civilian traffic, we have two runways, and the airspace to the south is unencumbered. The location of all the surrounding units, such as F-15Cs in New Orleans and the tankers in Jacksonville, [is also ideal]. Tyndall sits in the middle and other units that play wrap around us.”

While Tyndall housed the majority of the exercise aircraft and personnel, there are no facilities large enough for all the players to gather for mission planning. With units operating out of Cecil Field in Jacksonville and Eglin AFB, players divided into different locations and all participants mission planned via video teleconference before meeting in the airspace. This added challenge further hones mission readiness because it is more representative of combat, added Orsua.

Additionally, the exercise leveraged the current rebuild of Tyndall to afford on-station members the opportunity to learn from logistical challenges they may face downrange.

“These units are working in a deployed environment, just by default of Hurricane Michael,” said Master Sgt. Scottie Mitchell, ACC Exercise Branch Checkered Flag maintenance director. “Facility space was a challenge as Tyndall is in full rebuild mode. The question was, how do they operate at a high-level with minimum facilities and minimum equipment? It was about finding solutions to problems without letting it affect the mission. It is good for them to see that they can operate with minimal support and capabilities at a base.”

Aircraft participating in Checkered Flag 21-2 are also involved with the 53d Wing’s Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP) East 21-8, also known as Combat Archer, the Air Force’s joint program to test air-to-air and air-to-ground live fire weapons employment for combat aviators. Holding the training simultaneously saves resources and provided additional training for the units.

Ultimately, over the course of 14 days, players in Checkered Flag flew a combined 882 sorties, 692 originating out of Tyndall. Additionally, 54 missiles were fired under WSEP with more than 100 first-time shooters participating. The resulting 25 aerial events directly supported the Air Combat Command commander’s plan to train the Immediate Response Force – a dedicated force ready for worldwide, rapid response to unforeseen or unplanned operations.

The 325th Fighter Wing hosted and cultivated a joint integration environment and training exercise that is unmatched.