With F-16s Gone and New F-35s on Their Means, Alabama Guard Wing Begins Conversion

The F-16s at Dannelly Area, Ala., are nearly all gone, save for just a few receiving remaining upkeep for his or her flights out. The F-35s the 187th Fighter Wing is bringing in gained’t begin to arrive till December. 

However the subsequent seven months shall be something however quiet for the Alabama Air Nationwide Guard’s 187th because it transitions to the fifth-generation fighter. The 187th started engaged on getting F-35s greater than a decade in the past, vice commander Col. Jay R. Spohn informed Air & House Forces Journal. In 2017, Dannelly Area was tapped as one in every of two most well-liked Guard areas for F-35s, the opposite being Burlington Air Nationwide Guard Base, Vt. The 187th formally started its conversion March 1. 

But in all that point, Spohn mentioned, the wing stored its eyes on the current, not its future.  

“The mantra from the management has all the time been, ‘We nonetheless must do the mission within the F-16. We are able to’t take our eyes off of what’s actually necessary. The F-35 is sweet. We’re very lucky that we’ve been chosen for it … however our job right here in the present day is to get able to go battle within the F-16,’” Spohn mentioned. 

That modified prior to now few weeks, because the 187th performed its remaining native coaching sorties within the F-16 on March 31, adopted by a proper “farewell” ceremony April 21.  

“There have been folks in that hangar two weeks in the past saying goodbye to the F-16 that have been right here on this unit when the F-4s left in 1988, they usually’re nonetheless within the unit in the present day, when the F-16s are leaving,” Spohn mentioned.  

“We’re lastly shifting to the mission we’ve been speaking about for the final 10 years,” he added. “And it makes it slightly less complicated, I feel, as a result of now we don’t have to speak about two issues directly. We are able to discuss one factor. We’re centered on one factor, one airplane. Your job is to be good at one factor, your job within the F-35.” 

For pilots and maintainers, meaning studying, together with journeys to bases already flying F-35s to allow them to prepare and get sensible on their new plane. 

The 187th has despatched 5 pilots lately to coach at Eglin Air Drive Base, Fla., Hill Air Drive Base, Utah, and Burlington to make sure the wing has seasoned Lightning II pilots when the primary F-35s arrive. About 20 maintainers additionally went off for coaching. And extra will quickly in within the months forward, Spohn mentioned. Some 9 pilots and 40 maintainers have been off-station as he spoke. 

“In December when the primary three airplanes present up, we’ll have 15 pilots totally certified within the airplane,” Spohn mentioned. “And we’ll have 40-plus maintainers that can have a number of months or extra time engaged on the F-35.” 

That may nonetheless depart some pilots and maintainers who aren’t certified—the pilots will all ultimately should spend three months with the F-35’s coaching models at both Eglin or Luke Air Drive Base, Ariz., whereas the maintainers will be capable to be taught at Dannelly from their certified counterparts and a subject coaching workforce the Air Drive will ship. 

However it’s not simply the personnel who will work on and fly within the airplane who want a number of months to organize for its arrival. The wing’s logistics and civil engineering specialists even have tons to do. 

“We have to get all of the F-16 stuff off base to make room for the F-35 assist tools,” Spohn mentioned. “That’s every part from wheels and tires, screws, grease, O-rings, you identify it. All the things you might consider strolling via an auto elements retailer, there’s type of the equal of that as you stroll via our provide space for the F-16 and for the F-35. And it takes up a whole lot of room and so we have to we have to make room for that.” 

New development complicates that, as a result of storage is briefly provide proper now.

“A few of it was obligatory—you need to do it to make room for the F-35,” Spohn mentioned. “For instance, the simulator necessities, you need to have a simulator facility that is ready to maintain 4 F-35 simulators. … That’s a really huge, very costly constructing to accommodate all of that very costly, very delicate tools concerned with the simulator. However the F-35 engine is kind of a bit greater than the F-16 engine. F-35 engines to a big extent don’t match inside present engine restore amenities, so we needed to modify our engine store and issues like that. We renovated the massive upkeep hangar, we renovated the refueling space to carry an extra refueling truck and issues like that.” 

Development began in 2021 and gained’t wrap up utterly till late 2025, Spohn mentioned. The 187th may have three years, till February 2026, to succeed in full operational readiness. 

The Vermont ANG’s 158th Fighter Wing, the primary Guard unit to get F-35s, started its conversion course of in April 2019, acquired its first fighters in November, and was declared operational by early 2022. 

“If the plane supply timeline sticks to the schedule, … we may have no issues assembly the timeline and we’ll possible exceed it,” Spohn mentioned. 

However it’s going to be a workforce effort getting there. “Each single member of the 187th Fighter Wing—whether or not they’re guarding the gate or whether or not they’re driving the gasoline truck or they’re engaged on the airplanes, they’re flying the airplanes, or ensuring the airfield is sweet to go or sustaining the pilots’ tools—each single a type of folks goes to should be taught a brand new side of their job,” Spohn mentioned. “It’s very sophisticated and I do know that they’re going to do nice, and that’s what I’m excited to see.”