The commander of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida announced the base will take a “safety pause” on Thursday, after the crash of two fifth-generation fighter jets within days of one another.
An F-22 crashed on Eglin’s test and training range Friday morning during a training flight. Four days later, on Tuesday night, an F-35 also crashed on the base’s air field. Both pilots safely ejected without significant injuries.
But the back-to-back crashes have alarmed the base. Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, commander of the 96th Test Wing, said in a Facebook post Wednesday that while the health of the two pilots is a relief, the base needs to turn its attention to improving safety.
“The events over the past few days remind us that the defense of our country can be a dangerous business,” Cain said. “It is very important to me that we now take a safety pause."
He ordered commanders at all levels to conduct a “virtual safety day” Thursday, in reflection of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Cain also asked the wing’s safety office to prepare a safety briefing to be used across the base.
Cain said the investigations into both accidents are still in their early phases.
Cain praised his airmen for their dedication and resilience, and asked them to take “well-deserved down time” over the Memorial Day weekend.
“Times of crisis are the true test of an individual’s character, and they also demonstrate the strength of a team,” Cain said in a video posted online. “Team Eglin has certainly risen to the occasion over the last week.”
But he also urged them to keep safety in mind during the holiday, and as the base returns to flying operations next week.
“Please take this time to focus on staying safe this weekend, how we conduct our missions safely, and on our resilience,” Cain said.
Eglin’s wings include the 33rd Fighter Wing, which flies F-35s; the 53rd Wing, which conducts electronic warfare operations; the 96th Test Wing, which tests and evaluates air-delivered weapons, navigation and guidance systems for the Air Force, and the 919th Special Operations Wing, which is a reserve wing.
The 325th Fighter Wing, which flies F-22s, is also at Eglin for the time being while its usual home, Tyndall Air Force Base, recovers from severe damage caused by Hurricane Michael.
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.