The 71st Fighter Squadron welcomed its first two F-22 Raptors, tails AF040 and AF042, from Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB), Florida, to their new home on Joint Base Langley-Eustis (JBLE), Virginia.
In another historic milestone for the 1st Fighter Wing, the 71st Fighter Squadron welcomed its first two F-22 Raptors, tails AF040 and AF042, from Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB), Florida, to their new home on Joint Base Langley-Eustis (JBLE), Virginia, on Mar. 29, 2023.
As told by Senior Master Sgt. Amy Robinson in the article 71st Fighter Squadron receives first F-22s, the aircraft, flown by Lt. Col. Andrew Gray, 71st FS commander, and Lt. Col. Matthew Evers, 71st FS director of operations, mark the first of 30 Raptors, which will be assigned to the 71st FS, the new home of the F-22 Formal Training Unit.
“We’re bringing the training mission of the F-22 here,” Gray said, “We’re going to train pilots, who just got their wings, how to employ the F-22 in our squadron, and then we’ll send them out to their combat units.”
Previously, the F-22 FTU mission was located at Tyndall; however, after much of the base was destroyed by Hurricane Michael in 2018, Tyndall’s F-22s were temporarily moved to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. In 2021, the Air Force signed a Record of Decision approving JBLE as the new FTU location.
In preparation for their new mission, the 1st Fighter Wing at JBLE redesignated the 71st Fighter Training Squadron as the 71st Fighter Squadron in November 2022, and in January 2023, activated the 71st Fighter Generation Squadron. These two units will host the FTU.
Construction has also begun on two of several military construction projects slated to support the FTU. The first was the groundbreaking of a new low observable composite repair facility in November 2022, and the second was the groundbreaking of the new combined operations and maintenance hangar Feb. 22.
As Tyndall AFB prepares for the arrival of the F-35A Lightning II mission, it will continue to provide the academic and simulator portions of the F-22 FTU mission until a new ground training facility is completed at JBLE. This is expected to occur no earlier than summer 2026. The move of the F-22 FTU to Langley is intended to free up space at Eglin Air Force Base for an additional F-35 training unit.
The move of the F-22 FTU would bring 31 Raptor fighter jets at Langley as well as 16 T-38 training aircraft of the 2nd Fighter Training Squadron which are tasked to fly as hostile aircraft.
The Air Force has said the number of F-22 flights from Langley’s airfield would rise from 22,677 a year now to 49,119 when the training unit is up and fully operational. T-38 flights would increase from 16,000 a year to 47,866.
Although some may think this is the first time Langley has taken on a combat training mission, Gray said that’s actually not true.
“Langley has had training missions all throughout its history – going back 100 years,” he explained.
In November 1920, the US Army Air Service opened the Air Service Field Officers’ School, located at Langley Field, Virginia. The school was redesignated the Air Service Tactical School in 1922, and in 1926, it became the Air Corps Tactical School. According to the Air Force History and Museums program, its basic mission was to train air officers (and selected officers of the other armed services) in the strategy, tactics, and techniques of airpower.
Fast-forward to 2023, and the 1st Fighter Wing is taking on the mission of training its pilots to learn how to expertly provide air superiority anywhere around the globe – advanced airpower – in the F-22.
But that transition will take time.
Capt. Trent Amerson, who took command of the 71st Fighter Generation Squadron in January, said although his team is excited about the future of the 71st, they know the changes will also bring some challenging times.
“The arrival of these first two aircraft is the beginning of a new era, and we’re very excited,” Amerson said. “We still have a hard road ahead – with standing up the 71st squadrons, but we’re confident in the capability of our maintainers and expertise of our pilots in producing the most lethal F-22 pilots in the Air Force.”
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Amy Robinson