The Air Force has approved Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, to permanently host the service’s only advanced training unit for the F-22 Raptor jet, a spokesperson told Air Force Times Tuesday.
The service told Congress last week it has formally chosen the joint Army-Air Force base as the future home of the 325th Fighter Wing’s Formal Training Unit, after wrapping up a study on the environmental impact of moving the fighter jets to Virginia, Air Combat Command spokesperson Alexi Worley said.
Signing off on Langley as the final location for the Raptors is a long-awaited step for the wing, which has stayed at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, since Hurricane Michael swept through its original home at nearby Tyndall AFB in 2018. The federal government plans to formally publish the decision in the Federal Register this week.
It comes shortly after Air Force Times reported June 14 on the personal and professional toll the post-hurricane years has taken on the wing’s maintainers as well as the planes themselves.
But the decision doesn’t green-light the move itself.
Air Combat Command is waiting on service leadership to finish an analysis of which tactical aircraft it wants in its future inventory, including Raptors, machine gun-wielding A-10 Warthogs and F-35A Lightning II fighter jets, among others. Once that is done, the Air Force will decide if and when the 325th’s training unit will move to Virginia.
The service may also opt to retire the F-22 training planes instead of transferring the jets, amid concerns that the airframe would be vulnerable in high-tech combat with another country.
Moving F-22 training to Langley would bring 28 F-22s and 16 T-38 training jets to Hampton Roads, the Air Force indicated in its environmental study. They would be joined by 660 uniformed personnel, 75 civilian staffers, 25 contractors and nearly 1,700 family members.
Airmen at the wing argue Langley is better-equipped to welcome F-22s than Eglin, where it shares space with the F-35 enterprise. Virginia’s congressional delegation has pushed the Air Force to support the relocation as well.
“While Joint Base Langley-Eustis currently has two F-22 squadrons, as well as supporting maintenance units, it was built for the beddown of three squadrons, thereby underutilizing the airspace and Air Force investment in ramp, hangar and operations support facilities,” the bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers said in 2019. “The East Coast mid-Atlantic training ranges provide an excellent opportunity to train with other fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft in the region.”
Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post, and others.