Officials Elected To Bring The F-16 To The Wing Because Of Its
Similarity To The Follow-On F-35
After 17 months of silence, the 33rd Fighter Wing flightline
finally roared back to life on January 13. The 33rd Fighter Wing
received four F-16s from the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke AFB, AZ. The
jets will help establish a "battle rhythm," as the wing stands up
the first Joint Training Center for the fifth generation F-35 Joint
Strike Fighter. "Everybody who operates on this base will benefit
from an airplane taxiing out of here," said Col. James Ravella,
33rd Operations Group commander, "and outside the base, from
Tyndall AFB to Pensacola Naval Air Station and other divert bases
will get used to us coming over there."
Officials elected to bring the F-16 to the wing because of its
similarity to its descendant, the F-35. Its flying characteristics
are similar to the F-35 so the training and mindset pilots are
going to have in a single-engine fighter transitions from the F-16
into the F-35. The initial cadre of F-35 instructor pilots will fly
the F-16s for about one year to validate processes and warm up the
ramp, which has not been used to fly an aircraft since the wing
transitioned to Air Education and Training Command in October 2009.
Officials from AETC, Eglin and Luke worked to bring the F-16s to
Eglin for more than a year. "You are driving down risk by the type
of aircraft, the type of flying we are going to be doing, and just
establishing a battle rhythm at the 33 FW with the integration of
Team Eglin," said Navy Capt. Michael Saunders, 33 OG deputy
Team Eglin members play multiple roles in the success of the 33
FW training mission, and the addition of these four aircraft will
rekindle those partnerships. "It exercises the whole 33 FW as well
as our coordination with the 96th Air Base Wing for its support and
the 46th Test Wing where we coordinate air space and scheduling,"
Colonel Ravella said. "We can't fly without linking into the 46th
Test Wing or the 96th Air Base Wing. Those are the same
relationships we are going to exercise when we fly the F-35."
The benefits of the F-16s have already been evident, even prior
to their arrival. Wing personnel began testing hardware like
hotlines that had not been in service in the 17 months since the
last F-15 Eagle left the wing. The 33 FW is producing the template
for F-35 pilot and maintainer training, a model which will be
applied across the spectrum of fighter operations for the
foreseeable future. Those processes will be fielded on those four
initial aircraft. "This program is too important to the future of
our nation to leave to conceptual planning. We need to test our
processes with real iron -- actual aircraft. It is one of those
things that is going to help us root out the processes and identify
seams or rough spots before we start up F-35 training here,"
Captain Saunders said. "This is a critical piece of that."
In addition to the aircraft, about 50 maintainers from Luke will
stay to work on the aircraft during the year, said Capt. Timothy
Plante, 62nd Fighter Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in
charge. The advanced team of 10 has already received seven, 40-foot
trucks full of equipment. "We got all our parts and equipment to
fly these airplanes," the captain said. "It is just one step closer
to the stand up of the F-35."
The board-selected, best-of-the-best pilots from three services
have flown a diverse group of aircraft from F-15s to Harriers. The
group, including Sailors and Marines, will fly with a common base
thanks to the F-16. "It is a joint effort," Colonel Ravella said.
"Eventually, the Marine pilots that will transition to the F-35
will also fly the F-16. The Air Force provided hardware for the
joint solution for the wing."
The 33rd "Nomads" re-designated under AETC on Oct. 1, 2009. The
joint wing is responsible for F-35 A/B/C pilot and maintainer
training for the Marine Corps, the Navy and the Air Force. In the
future, 59 aircraft and three flying squadrons, one for each
service/aircraft variant, will be established.