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F-35 fighters put 173rd Fighter Wing’s ample range space to the test

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

A squadron of the one of the Nation’s most advanced fighter aircraft traveled from Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, to the 173rd Fighter Wing in Klamath Falls, Ore., for a two-week stint in late October 2022.

The 63rd Fighter Squadron, flying 14 F-35 Lightning II fighter jets, integrated with wing F-15 Eagles and contract F-5 adversary aircraft while also accomplishing airframe specific training during their stay.

“They are also a training unit, like us,” said Col. Lee Bouma, the 173rd Fighter Wing commander. “They are here to increase their training—their ramp is very busy, their airspace is very busy—and we have the ability to host them up here in some amazing airspace and get them some training for their students that they can’t readily get at home.”

Over their 13-day stay, the visiting unit flew 345 sorties, and tallied nearly 500 flying hours.

“Out in the airspace it’s been awesome, that was one of the big draws coming out here—the large airspace, with the accessibility that we sometimes miss at home station,” said Lt. Col. Mark Schnell, the 63rd Fighter Squadron commander.

Accessibility essentially means that the training time on the range is flexible, so if maintenance crews need extra time to get aircraft ready or something else delays a mission, it’s of little consequence to the training mission. For busy ranges such as Luke and Nellis Air Force Bases, slipping range time isn’t an option as it cuts into the subsequent users training time.

Initially, the visiting aircraft focused on their F-35 specific training with 10 sorties in the morning and eight more later in the day, The wing continued its training mission flying eight morning sorties and six afternoon sorties. The second week of training included integration with wing aircraft culminating in a large-force exercise involving 32 aircraft. 

“Large ‘vols’ [evolutions] back home, you’re looking at probably 12 airplanes,” said Capt. Shaun Lovett, the visiting project officer. “32 aircraft adds some inherent challenges, deconfliction being one, also maintaining a level of awareness when half of those being “blue” and the other half are trying to kill you—makes it quite fun.” 

When asked to reflect on any surprises or anything unexpected, Schnell said, “honestly it’s been how smooth things have been, it’s sometimes unnerving,” he said with a chuckle. He went on to say that despite half the ramp space being closed for renovation and a total of 38 aircraft parked on the ramp.

“Some of the easiest flying I’ve done,” said Lovett.

Col. Micah Lambert, 173rd FW vice commander, says the two units are looking at future opportunities to repeat this type of training here at Kingsley Field due to the success of this mission.