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Luke Lightnings
 
Latest update: March 2018
 
Air Education and Training Commands (EATC) 56th Fighter Wing (56 FW) is currently transitioning from being the largest Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon (training) base to become the largest Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II training base. In the recent past over 150 F-16s occupied the flight line with six F-16C/D fighter squadrons (FS) assigned to the wing as well one squadron of F-16A/Bs from the Republic of China Air Force and one squadron of F-16C/Ds from the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

56 FW current and recent F-16 squadrons

Squadron Nickname Aircraft Block Comment
         
21 FS “Gamblers” F-16A/B Block 20 Republic  of China / Taiwan Air Force
61 FS “Top Dogs” F-16C/D  Block 25  
62 FS “Spikes” F-16C/D  Block 25  
63 FS “Panthers” F-16CG/DG  Block 42  
308 FS “Emerald Knights" F-16CG/DG Block 42 Disbanded summer 2015
309 FS “Wild Ducks” F-16C/D Block 25  
310 FS “Tophats” F-16CG/DG  Block 42  
425 FS “Black Widows” F-16C/D Block 52 Republic of Singapore Air Force
         


F-16 training is transferred from Luke AFB to Holloman AFB, New Mexico. At the last base 54 Fighter Group was activated on March 11, 2014. 54 FG is a detachment of the 56 FW and currently has two squadrons assigned: 311 FS “Sidewinders” (activated March 1, 2016) and 314 FS “Warhawks” (activated June 16, 2016).

It’s unknown if both the Republic of Singapore and Taiwanese Air Forces will transfer their F-16 training as well to Holloman AFB or remain at Luke AFB as both ministry of defenses wouldn’t comment on their intentions.

56 FW F-35A Squadrons

56 FW will have six squadrons assigned of which three are operational. Another three squadrons are to be activated however a spokesperson of the 56 FW / PAO said ‘details regarding the future of the other three F-35A squadrons have not been released yet.’ Current planning is to stand up two squadrons in 2019 and the final squadron in 2022.

61 FS became the first AETC F-35A squadron to be activated receiving its first Lightning II on March 11, 2014. Within the USAF it was the fifth unit to be equipped with the new fighter, its four colleague squadrons are all engaged in operational test and development missions.

When all squadrons have reached their Full Operational Capability (FOC) 144 F-35As will be assigned to the 56 FW with each squadron allocated 24 aircraft. Except the USAF F-35As the flight lines will also be occupied by F-35 partner and FMS (Foreign Military Sales) nations.

On October 20, 2015 the 56 FW / PAO released an article (written by Staff Sgt. Staci Miller) covering the F-35A Lightning II operations and future at that time. The arrival of the 50th Lightning at Luke AFB together with the 56 FW article updated with the most recent information provided by the 56 FW / PAO and ministry of defenses of the F-35 partner nations result in the current states of the Luke AFB squadrons.

61 FS "Top Dogs"

The 61 FS was the first fighter squadron to stand down its F-16 operations and convert to the F-35A. Its first aircraft being the 100th F-35 produced AF-41 (11-5030) which touched down on March 11, 2014. Sister aircraft AF-42 (11-5031) flew the squadrons first mission on May 5, 2014. FOC was reached in June 2015 and is declared when a squadron has 24 primarily assigned aircraft.
Operating within the 61 FS is the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The first two F-35As were directly delivered to Luke AFB and assigned to the Pilot Training Course (PTC). A further eight aircraft will be delivered. 16 Lightning’s are on order which are equally divided between Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) 10 to be delivered by December 2018 and LRIP 11 to be delivered by December 2019.
Six aircraft from LRIP 10 will be assigned to the PTC. The other two F-35As will be the first to be delivered to Number 3 squadron based at RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales. LRIP 11 will see the final two F-35As being delivered at Luke AFB totaling the RAAF detachment at  10 aircraft. In Australia No. 3 squadron will receive the other six aircraft.

62 FS "Spikes"

Being the second fighter squadron to be fielded with the Lightning II it currently has received half of its aircraft. 62 FS also incorporates the F-35As of partner nations Italy and Norway.

The Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) took delivery of its fifth aircraft at the end of May. All Lighting’s are now assigned to the Pilot Training Course. Currently Lockheed Martin is delivering LRIP 9 due to be completed by the end of this year. Two more LRIP 9 F-35As are to be delivered and are expected to arrive before the end of July 2017. RNoAF remaining three F-35s from LRIP 9 will be delivered to Norway in November 2017.

The Italian Air Force currently operates four of its six delivered F-35A within the PTC. The main difference with the other international partners being these were build by the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility at Cameri, Italy. AL-01 (MM7332 / 32-01) became the first Lightning to cross the Atlantic ocean landing at NAS Patuxent River on February 5, 2016
Originally it was planned to assign five aircraft to the PTC however they fifth and sixth aircraft were delivered to the 13° Gruppo / 32° Stormo operating from Amendola Air Base
.

63 FS "Panthers"

The third squadron to convert to the F-35A was 63 FS. It only received its first aircraft on March 20, 2017 marking the 51st arrival of the aircraft for the 56 FW.  A second aircraft for the squadron was delivered in early May.
I
t’s expected that the Turkish Air Force will assign a number of its F-35A to the PTC.  LRIP 10 contains two aircraft for the Turkish Air Force  to be delivered by December 2018. Based on the original press release the first one is expect at Luke AFB mid 2018. LRIP 11 contains another four Lighting’s but it’s unclear if and how many of these will be assigned to 63 FS.

"Fourth" FS

The 56 FW PAO Spokesperson confirmed that the details related to the future fourth, fifth and sixth fighter squadrons have not been released.
They as yet unnamed  squadron will stand up early 2019. Both Denmark and The Netherlands will assign aircraft to the PTC within this squadron. The Royal Danish Air Force will receive  its first F-35A  in 2021 (Lot 13). Five of its aircraft will be based at Luke AFB the others will assigned to Fighter Wing Skrydstrup which expects to receive its first of 22 aircraft in late 2022.
The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) already operates two F-35As one each for LRIP 3 and 4 . These aircraft were delivered to Eglin AFB and then relocated to Edwards AFB assigned to 323 TES (Test and Evaluation Squadron) and assigned to Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E).
LRIP 11 will see the next RNLAF Lightning order for eight aircraft. Of these six will be build by Lockheed Martin at Ft. Worth and delivered to Luke AFB. All other aircraft starting from AL-09 will be build at the Cameri  FACO. 322 Squadron based at Leeuwarden Air Base will be the first squadron in The Netherlands to receive the Lightning with the first aircraft expected to arrive in the last quarter of 2019. Finally the two F-35As at Edwards AFB will join the PTC at Luke AFB when they have completed the IOT&E phase.

"Fifth" FS

The as yet unnamed  squadron will stand up in 2019.

It was planned that this squadron would be joined by the Royal Canadian Air Force. However the Canadian government elected in 2015 decided to reopen its competition to replace its fleet of Boeing CF-18 Hornets. In November 2016 Canada committed to launch an open and transparent competition.

"Sixth" FS

They as yet unnamed  squadron will stand up in 2022. Based on current information and F-35A sales no international or FMS partner will be part of this squadron.

944 FW, Det 2


Japan (Japanese Air Self Defense Force – JASDF) purchased its F-35As through Foreign Military Sales (FMS). Out of the planned 42 aircraft 22 have been ordered. The first four build by Lockheed Martin at Ft. Worth with the other aircraft to be build by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) FACO Nagoya. Contrary to the other nations the US build JASDF Lightning’s have been delivered to the Air Force Reserve Commands 944 FW, Detachment 2. Its first two pilots completed the PTC on May 31.

Other FMS countries

Both Israel with currently five aircraft delivered and South Korea six aircraft ordered in LRIP 10 and 10 in LRIP 11 decided to train their pilots and personnel in their own countries.

Luke AFB 50 Lightnings

Squadron / AF Delivered To be delivered Total
       
61 FS 23 1 24
RAAF 2 8 10
       
62 FS 12 12 24
ItAF 4 0 4
RNoAF 4 3 7
       
63 FS 1 23 24
TUAF 0 0 0
       
“Fourth” FS 0 24 24
RNLAF 0 8 8
RDAF 0 5 5
       
“Fifth” FS 0 24 24
RCAF 0 0 0
       
“Sixth” FS 0 24 24
       
JASDF 944 FW, Det 2  4 0 4
       
Total USAF 36 108 144
Total partners 10 16 26
Total FMS 4 0 4
       
Total F-35A 50 124 174

Notes:

61 FS has 24 primarily aircraft assigned however based on sightings 23 aircraft have been reported as assigned to 61 FS.

56 FW highlights

Date 56 FW milestone
29-03-17 10.000th F-35A mission 56 FW.
20-03-17 50th F-35A delivered Luke AFB, the first Lightning II for 63 FS.
26-08-16 100th USAF F-35A delivered to 62 FS.
30-06-16 First crossing of the Atlantic ocean by USAF F-35A (3). Aircraft arrived at RAF Fairford to take part at RIAT and FIA 2016.
31-03-15 1.000th sortie by 56 FW.
05-05-14 First F-35A mission by 56 FW / 61 FS.
11-03-14 First F-35A, the 100th F-35 in total, delivered to the 61 FS.
   

The editor would like to thank the 56 FW / PAO and the spokespersons of the following ministry of defenses:  Australia, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands.