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

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

On December 5, 2023, three F-35A Lightning II fighter jets were delivered to the 187th Fighter Wing at Dannelly Field, Alabama.

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

After more than ten years of planning and preparation, the 187th Fighter Wing members are proud to bring home the most recent fifth-generation capabilities, thanks to Alabama.

“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.”

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

Over the next five years, the unit will receive a total of 20 F-35s. Over the years to come, construction will cost about $112 million. By 2026, the wing should be completely operational.

Tuskegee Airmen legacy

To honor the legendary legacy of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen, the 100th Fighter Squadron was renumbered from the 160th Fighter Squadron in 2007.
The Red Tail Flyers, commonly known as the Tuskegee Airmen, have made an indelible mark on American aviation history.

The US Army Air Corps, which preceded the US Air Force, employed the first black military pilots, known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Pilots, navigators, maintainers, bombardiers, instructors, and support staff all trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. The Tuskegee Airmen made almost 15,000 sorties throughout World War II across Europe and North Africa.

The Tuskegee Airmen applied a red tail paint scheme to their North American P-51 Mustangs, Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, and Curtiss P-40 Warhawks. It is generally known, according to official USAF documents, that our WWII bomber pilots would look out their windows and feel more confident about the Red Tail fighters that were flying next to them. They found comfort in knowing that, compared to other 12th and 15th Air Force outfits, their chances for survival were higher when escorted by a Red Tail.

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

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