All F-22s Have Now Left Tyndall, Air Force Secretary Says

F-22 Raptor crew chiefs from the 1st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, tow an aircraft at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Oct. 18, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Matthew Lotz)
F-22 Raptor crew chiefs from the 1st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, tow an aircraft at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Oct. 18, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Matthew Lotz)

All the F-22 Raptors that were left behind at Tyndall Air Force Base during Hurricane Michael have moved on to the bases where they will be housed until the Air Force determines their final future destination, the service's top civilian said Thursday.

"All of the F-22s have been flown out now," Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said during the annual Defense One summit in Washington, D.C. "All of the damage to them was minor ... They were repaired and flown out."

The Air Force in recent weeks announced it would relocate its Tyndall F-22 stealth fighter fleet, dividing the aircraft between Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

Eglin Air Force Base in Florida -- roughly 60 miles away from Tyndall in Florida's panhandle -- has also accepted some of Tyndall's F-22s and T-38 Talon trainers. The Raptor schoolhouse for pilots in training has also been relocated to Eglin.

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The secretary said the Air Force maintains a "hurricane plan for every base" that includes how to shelter aircraft should they not be able to fly out before a storm.

That was the case with the F-22s left behind at Tyndall ahead of Hurricane Michael, officials have said.

The F-22s left behind were reportedly down for maintenance, but top brass has yet to describe what kind of maintenance was taking place on the jets that resulted in them being left rather than moved to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where the other F-22s from the 325th Fighter Wing were evacuated at the time of the storm.

"As Hurricane Michael approached the Florida panhandle, 31 percent of F-22 aircraft at Tyndall Air Force Base were designated non-mission capable ... and were sheltered in place," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a letter to Wilson last month.

Bullet Points: F22 Raptor

Fifty-five of the fifth-generation fighters are assigned to the 325th Fighter Wing, Rubio said. That figure squares with earlier reports that up to 17 aircraft may have been damaged by the Category 4 storm.

Earlier this month, Wilson raised the possibility that the nation's most advanced fighters may never return permanently to storm-ravaged based.

"That has not been determined," Wilson said in a conference call with defense reporters on Nov. 2. "We haven't made a decision on that."

Wilson on Thursday said building the base's facilities back to their original state will also take time.

"Base recovery as a whole is probably going to three to five years' time," Wilson said.

"We're now assessing building-by-building what needs to be done," she added, nothing that roughly 500 airmen who have missions at Tyndall have moved to other bases.

The rest of Tyndall's missions will be distributed between Eglin and Tyndall for the foreseeable future, she said. Some may return to the base as soon as January.

About "95 percent of the buildings were damaged in some way; now we're figuring out which ones need to just be leveled, and which ones we need to rebuild," Wilson said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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