Military Aviation

Red Tails receives the first three F-35A Lightning II fighter jets

The Red Tails are the third ANG unit slated to transition to the F-35A Lightning II

The 187th Fighter Wing received three F-35A Lightning II fighter jets at Dannelly Field, Alabama, on Dec. 5, 2023.

As told by 1st Lt. Michael Luangkhot, 187th Fighter Wing Public Affairs, in the article F-35s arrive to Dannelly Field, the Red Tails are the third Air National Guard (ANG) unit slated to transition to fifth generation fighter aircraft.

More than a decade of preparation and planning has been underway by the members of the 187th Fighter Wing and the state of Alabama has yielded dividends in bringing home the latest in fifth generation capabilities.

“It is an honor to be able to fly one of the first F-35’s home,” said Lt. Col. Richard Peace, a pilot for the 187th Fighter Wing. “I have always looked up to the Tuskegee Airmen and can confidently say we will continue their legacy using the F-35’s. Everyone at the wing has been hard at work preparing for this moment and it is finally here. I am excited to see everyone and to be back after months of pilot training preparing for this special day.”

An F-35 Lightning II parked on the flight line at Dannelly Field, on Dec. 6, 2023. The 187th Fighter Wing received their first aircrafts from Luke AFB, Ariz. and will begin transitioning to their new mission.

The awesome capabilities of the F-35A Lightning II

“The F-35 changes the role that the 187th serves in the United States’ application of airpower,” said Maj. Bart Smith, a 187th Fighter Wing weapons instructor. “I’ve had the opportunity to experience the awesome capabilities that the F-35A brings to the joint fight. What truly separates the 187th apart will never be the aircraft, but the Airmen that equip, maintain and fly it.”

In the past few years, more than 33 core cadre maintainers and other support functions have been vigorously training for the arrival of the fifth-generation aircraft at external training locations. The Airmen will bring back their knowledge and experience to train the members at home station.

“They are highly skilled, highly trained maintainers that dedicated years of their lives and moved from Alabama to embed with F-35 guard or active-duty units to learn best practices,” said Capt.Bryon Townsend, 187th Fighter Maintenance Group’s director of operations. “We are grateful for the work they have put into their training and expect them serve as the leaders that our maintenance members will look to for guidance, expertise and empowerment.”

The unit is preparing to receive a total of 20 F-35’s over the next five years. Construction over the next several years will total approximately $112 million. The wing is projected to be fully operational by 2026.

Tuskegee Airmen legacy

In 2007, the 100th Fighter Squadron was renumbered from the 160th Fighter Squadron to pay tribute to the historic legacy of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen.
The Tuskegee Airmen, also known as the Red Tail Flyers, have left an indelible mark on the history of American aviation.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET  YOURS. P-51C-10 Flown by Tuskagee Airmen Col. Charles E. McGee, 302nd FS, 332nd FG, Italy

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black military aviators in the US Army Air Corps, a precursor of the US Air Force. Pilots, navigators, maintainers, bombardiers, instructors and support staff all trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 15,000 sorties during World War II in Europe and North Africa.

The Tuskegee Airmen painted their Curtiss P-40 Warhawks, Republic P-47 Thunderbolts and North American P-51 Mustangs with a red-tailed paint scheme.
According to official USAF documents, it is well documented that our WWII bomber pilots would look out their windows and gain confidence from Red Tail fighters flying beside them. It has been stated they took comfort in knowing their chances for survival were higher with a Red Tail escort than from any other outfit in 12th and 15th Air Force.

Tails painted red

As a tribute to their legacy, some of the F-16s in the 100th Fighter Squadron had their tails painted red, honoring the brave men who paved the way for generations of pilots to come.

The F-35 Lightning II will now take its place on the mantle, charged with continuing to accelerate the Red Tail legacy.

Photo credit: 1st Lt. Michael Luangkhot, 187th Fighter Wing Public Affairs / U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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