EGLIN AFB — The Air Force has identified Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Virginia, as its preferred site for the formal pilot and maintenance training unit for the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, a mission held at Eglin Air Force Base for the past several months.
Pilot and maintenance training for the F-22 came to Eglin from Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City following Hurricane Michael, which leveled Tyndall in October. The transfer brought 31 Raptors, 18 T-38 Talons (jet trainers used to train F-22 pilots in aerial combat) and hundreds of Air Force personnel to Eglin, where they have been operating from the 33rd Fighter Wing flightline.
The F-22 training unit is at Eglin under the terms of a "temporary bed-down" agreement with the federal government that included a quick assessment that noise would be the only local environmental impact from having the aircraft at Eglin. Under that agreement, F-22 training could stay at Eglin for as long as three years.
"The F-22s being here now is an interim step,” Eglin spokesman Mike Spaits said in January.
As a first step to move F-22 training from Eglin to Joint Base Langley-Eustis, the Air Force has filed a "notice of intent" in the Federal Register. The notice is required by the National Environmental Policy Act as the first step toward preparing an Environmental Impact Statement on the potential effects of moving F-22 training operations to the base.
An Environmental Impact Statement typically takes 24 to 48 months to prepare, according to an email announcement of plans to move F-22 operations to Joint Base Langley-Eustis issued Tuesday afternoon from the office of Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson.
"The Air Force will now conduct a site survey at Langley AFB to ensure it meets all basing criteria before making a final decision," the announcement noted.
Tuesday's announcement also sets up the Air Force's overall criteria for a new F-22 training base.
"The permanent solution must address readiness and pilot production by ensuring the F-22 FTU (formal training unit) is set up at a location that optimizes readiness," the statement reads.
The statement also notes that the F-22 training unit location decision must also factor in the directive from former Secretary of Defense James Mattis to increase mission-capable rates for the F-22 and other aircraft in the Air Force inventory to 80 percent.