IELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Eielson finalized its status as a formidable fifth-generation fighter wing today as the 354th Fighter Wing accepted delivery of its final F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft.
With the arrival, the 354th Fighter Wing completed a two-year buildup, resulting in two additional operational flying squadrons comprised of 54 permanently-assigned, combat-coded F-35A aircraft.
“It’s a significant day for Eielson and the 354th Fighter Wing,” said Col. David Berkland, 354th Fighter Wing commander. “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 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.
After years of preparation and support from units around Eielson, the recently reactivated 356th and 355th Fighter Squadrons are eager to begin utilizing their full fleets.
“I’ve been here since the beginning; I’ve seen the arrival of all 54 F-35s and I’m tremendously proud of this team, not only the maintenance personnel,” said Col. Matt Powell, 354th Maintenance Group commander. “When you do something big, like bring in a new mission and stand up a combat capability in a wing, everybody has a part to play in it.”
“Everybody” is not limited to Eielson personnel but also includes the surrounding communities and their support as well.
“Support from the Fairbanks North Star Borough, City of Fairbanks and City of North Pole communities has made this all possible,” said Berkland. “We’ve felt all along as though we are joining an extended family here in the interior, and I could not ask for better partners.”
The completion of the F-35 fleet at Eielson turns a page in the history of airpower and in history of the 354th Fighter Wing.