Eielson Air Force Base (AFB) in Alaska has received its full complement of 54 F-35A Lightning IIs, following delivery of the last two aircraft.
The pair - comprising serials 19-5494 ‘AK’ (callsign ‘Zest 51’) and 19-5496 ‘AK’ (‘Zesty 52’) - were delivered from the factory in Fort Worth, Texas, to Eielson on April 15 to join the 355th Fighter Squadron (FS) ‘Fighting Falcons’ as part of the 354th Fighter Wing (FW). Tanker support for the flight was provided by KC-135R Stratotanker (serial 58-0120, callsign ‘Adobe 01’) from the 186th Air Refueling Wing’s (ARW's) 153rd Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) - a component of the Mississippi Air National Guard (ANG) at Key Field ANG Base, Meridian, Mississippi.
Their arrival completes a two-year build-up, which has resulted in the wing now having two operational squadrons of 54 permanently assigned, combat-coded F-35As. The first of the two F-35A units, the 356th FS ‘Green Demons', had been reactivated on October 10, 2019. A second unit - the 355th FS 'Fighting Falcons' - was reactivated on December 18, 2020.
“It’s a significant day for Eielson and the 354th Fighter Wing,” said Col David Berkland, commander of the 354th Fighter Wing. “Finally receiving our 54th F-35 and completing our combat fleet culminates the end of a two-year beddown process that our team executed without delay, in spite of the global pandemic and our extreme Arctic environment. Today also marks Eielson as a premier, advanced airpower projection location.”
The arrival of the final aircraft cements Alaska’s status as the most concentrated state for combat-coded, fifth-generation fighter aircraft. The state also continues to be a premier training location as home to the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex’s (JPARC's) more than 75,000 square miles of airspace.
“When you station the F-35 at Eielson and you have the F-22 Raptor at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, continuously working together in the JPARC with our 18th Aggressor Squadron and advanced ground training assets, you have the best training field to advance high-end airpower operations,” said Berkland.