173rd FW creates “Airbridge” for next generation F-35 training

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

Eight Luke Air Force Base F-35A Lightning II aircraft returned to the Klamath Basin, and the 173rd Fighter Wing welcomed them with an unprecedented 19,512 square-mile range training space, May 10, 2023.

The range space was expanded by creating a temporary flyway at a specific altitude window dubbed an “Airbridge” between the 173rd Fighter Wing’s standard range space in Eastern Oregon and Mountain Home AFB’s range in Idaho.

“The expanded airspace construct allowed our squadron to easily and seamlessly integrate with units from Mountain Home AFB, Idaho and train in their expansive airspace while operating out of Kingsley Field,” said Lt. Col. Tyler Smith, a Luke Air Force Base F-35 pilot following the visit.

The benefits of bringing F-35s to Kingsley Field to train have been repeatedly documented; beginning with their first training visit last fall: availability of range space, proximity to the training area, ready tanker support and an extensive range complex with very few restrictions. 

Maj. Tyler Clark, a 173rd Fighter Wing instructor pilot for the F-15C and the project officer for the visit from Arizona, said this “Airbridge” added to those advantages.

“When they came here, they had almost triple the available range space time, and then, on top of that, coordinating a large-force exercise was a bonus,” said Clark.

Over a period of two weeks, three large-force exercises used that space combining F-15s from Kingsley Field, Strike Eagles from Mountain Home, contract F-5 “Red Air” aircraft, and F-35s from Luke in combat simulations.

“It worked great--we had zero infractions,” said Clark.  “There were no issues from FAA control agencies; overall it was a big success.”

Smith added, “The more advanced F-35 syllabus training missions require the use of an Electronic Warfare range, and the Mountain Home Complex infrastructure is well-suited to our training needs.”

That Electronic Warfare Range provides Air-to-Ground training, something the F-35 does that the F-15C does not.  This proof-of-concept may foreshadow the way in which the 173rd Fighter Wing will conduct training when the F-35 takes up permanent residence in the Basin.

“With Kingsley's future F-35 mission, this airspace construct will be essential to providing the required airspace infrastructure for F-35 pilot training,” said Smith.