Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia may become the new, permanent home for the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor formal training unit.
The 43rd Fighter Squadron, which handles F-22 training, was forced out of its home at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida when Hurricane Michael struck last October. Since then, the 43rd has been temporarily housed at nearby Eglin Air Force Base.
Air Force spokesman Robert Leese said in an email that the Air Force on Monday identified Langley-Eustis as the candidate base for the F-22 training unit and its associated T-38 training aircraft, and announced its intention in the Federal Register.
That decision has now put into motion a lengthy process for making a final decision on whether the unit can be moved to Langley-Eustis, Leese said. An environmental impact statement must be conducted, and will likely take a year or two to finish.
The Air Force also must survey the site to make sure Langley meets all the necessary criteria before a decision can be made.
“The permanent solution must address readiness and pilot production by ensuring the F-22 FTU is set up at a location that optimizes readiness and supports the secretary of defense’s requirement to improve mission capable rates to 80 percent,” Leese said in the email.
If Langley-Eustis is ultimately selected to be the new home for the 43rd, it would solve one of the biggest remaining issues in the wake of Tyndall’s hurricane devastation. The Air Force said in December that Tyndall’s operational Raptors from the 95th Fighter Squadron would not return to the base. Instead, those F-22s would be permanently moved to squadrons at three bases that had been temporarily housing them: Langley-Eustis, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.
In place of those departed F-22s, the Air Force hopes to station three squadrons of F-35s at Tyndall, possibly beginning in 2023. The Air Force said that plan would allow it to tailor new construction at Tyndall to best fit F-35s.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.