Lightning within [F-3]5

  • Published
  • By Air Force Staff Sgt. Cheyenne Lewis
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Tyndall Air Force Base is slated to receive its first F-35A Lightning II in September 2023. In preparation, 325th Fighter Wing leadership along with Airmen from across the installation toured the Lockheed Martin F-35 facility in Fort Worth, Texas, Oct. 20, 2022.

Col. George Watkins, 325th FW commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Wayne Sharp, 325th FW command chief, thought this would be a great opportunity for Airmen from across the installation to experience Tyndall’s up-and-coming mission sets and inspire the members who will run the operations as Tyndall is rebuilt as the “Installation of the Future”.

“Previously, it felt like [the F-35A] arrival was never really going to happen, because it felt so far away,” said Senior Airman Morgan Reid, 325th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller. “Actually seeing the plane literally being built made all the difference; it made it feel real.”

The group received a tour of the F-35 Lightning II assembly line where they witnessed every step of an F-35 being manufactured and what goes into creating the different variations of the airframe. They were also encouraged to add their signatures to a structural component of a future F-35A, which is planned to be used on the first F-35A aircraft off the line destined for Tyndall.

“My favorite part was signing the F-35,” Reid continued. “The most interesting part was learning about the takeoff distance and wingspans of the different F-35 variations. As [an air traffic] controller, learning about the capabilities of the [F-35] was really important. We need to know that information for every aircraft. It [will] increase the overall safety of our members in the airspace now that I have a better understanding of how the F-35 will interact with other aircraft.”

After touring the facility, the group received multiple briefings on F-35 capabilities, long-term sustainability for the aircraft, how the three variations differ from each other as well as the versions partner nations are utilizing. The Airmen who attended the tour came from various career fields such as air traffic control, contracting, public affairs, and finance, as each will have a role in the future mission and can bring back information to their teams to better prepare.

“It was great to have Airmen there who may not be familiar with the F-35 and its mission and who are going to be supporting the F-35 flying operations at Tyndall in the near future,” said Watkins.

Tyndall’s future mission of flying F-35As instead of training F-22 Raptor pilots means switching from a formal training unit to a combat-ready fighter squadron.

“There’s obviously an F-22 program in place for a good reason, but the F-35 mission is just so different,” Reid concluded. “It’s above anything we’ve ever had and there’s a need for it. The F-35 is like a flying supercomputer.”

Watkins hopes the Airmen gained an appreciation for the new mission and the complexity of 5th-generation combat airpower.

“They brought great energy and asked awesome questions while they were learning about F-35 combat systems and flight operations,” Watkins concluded. “My favorite part was talking to Airmen who attended the factory tour and learning what is important to them as we transition to a combat mission.”