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Alabama Air Guard's 187th Fighter Wing Receives F-35 Jets

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Michael Luangkhot,
  • 187th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

DANNELLY FIELD, Ala. - The 187th Fighter Wing received three F-35 Lightning II fighter jets at Dannelly Field Dec. 5, becoming the third Air National Guard unit to transition to the fifth-generation fighter aircraft.

“It is an honor to be able to fly one of the first F-35s 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-35s. 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.”

The lineage of the Red Tails dates back to the P-51 Mustang in World War II, and most recently the F-16 Viper that was divested at the wing in 2022. The F-35 Lightning II will now take its place, charged with continuing to accelerate the Red Tail legacy.

“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.”

For the past few years, more than 33 core cadre maintainers and other support functions have been vigorously training for the arrival of the aircraft at external training locations. The Airmen 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 to serve as the leaders that our maintenance members will look to for guidance, expertise and empowerment.”

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