The Air Force will transfer F-22 raptors and airmen, who are part of a Hurricane Michael-backed squadron of Florida, to three other states, and it is not yet clear whether they will return, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said on Friday.
The 95th Fighter Wing of Tyndall Air Force Base and its 21 F-22s will instead fly from the Langley-Eustis Joint Base in Virginia, the Elmendorf-Richardson Joint Base in Alaska, and the Pearl Harbor-Hickham Joint Base in Hawaii. The Air Force will also distribute its Tyndall-based Uncommissioned Officer Academy to the McGhee Tyson Air National Guard base in Tennessee, Maxwell Gunter Air Force Base in Alabama, Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, and Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.
The 10 October storm hit the base, located 12 miles east of Panama City, destroying hangars and damaged aircraft. Air Force officials said that most of the base's 55 F-22s – considered the nation's best air-to-air combat aircraft – flew before the storm, but some remained in hangars due to maintenance issues. The Luftwaffe declined to say how many F-22s were in Tyndall when the storm broke in, but Senator Marcio Rubio (R.-Fla.) Cited the figure at 31 percent or 17 aircraft.
Wilson said Friday that in the coming months, nearly all of Tyndall's 11,000 airmen and employees will return to the Florida Panhandle, with some 500 going to the 95th Fighter Squadron and the Academy as an exception. About 1,500 airmen will return to Tyndall within a few weeks.
"We focus on serving our pilots and their families and ensuring the resumption of operations," Wilson said. "These decisions were important first steps to ensure stability and security. We are working hard to get your life back to normal as soon as possible. "
The units that will resume operations in Tyndall until January 1, include the 601st Air Force Operations Center, which oversees the airspace for foreign aircraft for the US Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Other units remain nearby.
The Air Force will also transfer two squadrons of squadrons piloting jets to the Eglin Air Force, which is about 60 miles from Tyndall. The 43rd Fighter Squadron, flying for training with the F-22, and the 2nd Fighter Squadron, using T-38 jets as training adversaries, will take these steps as the academic institutions and flight simulators in Tyndall continue to operate become. They were not destroyed by the storm.
Before the storm, Tyndall had the world's largest concentration of F-22. The Eye of the Storm traveled directly over the two runways of the base and several hangars in which the aircraft was stored.
Wilson said Friday she expects all F-22s to fly again. The last jets will be flown off Tyndall on December 6th. It is not clear when these jets will be "fully missionable," which means they can not only fly but perform combat missions. The jets, each worth around $ 140 million, are extremely manoeuvrable at both supersonic and subsonic speeds, and maintain a small radar signature that makes it hard for opponents to track them.