‘Ironmen’ reactivate as new F-22A FTU at Langley-Eustis

In preparation for the relocation of the F-22A Formal Training Unit (FTU) mission from Florida to Virginia, the US Air Force’s (USAF's) Air Combat Command (ACC) reactivated the 71st Fighter Squadron (FS) under the 1st Fighter Wing/Operations Group (FW/OG) at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton on January 6.

Known as the ‘Ironmen’, the unit had been assigned to the wing under the 71st Fighter Training Squadron designation from August 14, 2015, until November 12, 2021, when its Northrop T-38A Talons were reassigned to the then-recently reactivated 7th Fighter Training Squadron. The 71st FS had flown Boeing F-15C Eagles as part of the 1st OG until it was previously deactivated on September 30, 2010.

USAF Lt Col Andrew 'Lite' Gray (right), director of operations with the 94th FS 'Hat in the Ring' - a frontline fighter unit equipped with the F-22A Raptor - assumes command of the 71st FS 'Ironmen' from Col Brandon Tellez (left), commander of the 1st OG, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, on January 6, 2023.
USAF Lt Col Andrew 'Lite' Gray (right), director of operations with the 94th FS 'Hat in the Ring' - a frontline fighter unit equipped with the F-22A Raptor - assumes command of the 71st FS 'Ironmen' from Col Brandon Tellez (left), commander of the 1st OG, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, on January 6, 2023. USAF/Airman 1st Class Olivia Bithell

While the F-22A FTU mission is still currently assigned to the 325th FW’s 43rd FS ‘Hornets’ at Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB) in Florida, the unit’s F-22A Raptors have (of late) been primarily operating from Eglin AFB, Florida, since much of Tyndall was destroyed by Hurricane Michael in October 2018. The transfer of the F-22A FTU mission to Langley-Eustis was approved in June 2021.

Commenting on the unit’s reactivation at Joint Base Langley-Eustis during the January 6 ceremony, Lt Col Andrew Gray – who took command of the 71st FS upon its reactivation – emphasised the importance of maintaining air superiority and the squadron’s role in preparing the next-generation of fighter pilots to maintain air dominance going forward. “My charge as commander of the fighter training unit is to help develop and prepare airmen and pilots to go into these combat units around the Air Force and preserve air superiority around the world,” he said.