HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. – The 7th Fighter Squadron, which flies Holloman’s 24 F-22 Raptors, was supposed to move its hundreds of F-22 support personnel and aircraft to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., in the spring of 2013 to comply with the Air Force’s F-22 fleet consolidation plan, but that never happened. Congress enacted a freeze on U.S. Air Force structure changes, including aircraft transfers.
As a replacement for the F-22, Holloman was supposed to receive two F-16 training squadrons from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., but this move was also postponed due to the congressional freeze.
“Let me emphasize that although this mission change has been delayed, it has not been canceled,” Col. Andrew Croft, 49th Wing commander said. “We are actively preparing for the arrival of the F-16s, and, in the meantime, F-22s will continue to fly at Holloman and remain ready for worldwide deployment anytime, anywhere.”
And that is exactly what the F-22s have been doing. In fact, the 7th Fighter Squadron recently returned from a nine-month deployment to Southwest Asia in January.
Since they have been back at home station, the squadron has been taking advantage of unique training opportunities made available by the expansive White Sands Missile Range which borders Holloman Air Force Base, and includes approximately 3,200 square miles in parts of five counties in southern New Mexico, according to the U.S. Army.
“Some of our pilots get to fly three to five times a week,” said Lt. Col. Shawn “Rage” Anger, 7th FS commander. “But we have been affected by sequestration, and will have less flying hours throughout the remaining year. All of our pilots will remain qualified, but they won't be as proficient with fewer hours in the jet.”
As training continues for the 7th FS, the squadron is also preparing to start moving people to Tyndall as early as October of 2013. F-22 aircraft may transition as early as January of 2014, said Colonel Anger.
“Our goal is to take 60 to 70 percent of our current squadron to Tyndall so that we can start flying operations as quickly as possible,” he said. “The remainder of the squadron will PCS (permanent change of station) to various assignments as part of the natural flow of the assignment system.”
The 7th Fighter Squadron name will remain at Holloman Air Force Base, and the squadron is scheduled to be renamed the 95th Fighter Squadron, a historical squadron within Tyndall's history.
As Holloman prepares to lose the F-22 Raptors, the base has been gearing up to become a training base for F-16 aircraft, which are expected to be in use for at least another 20 years, and are currently the aircraft flown by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.
Holloman will receive 56 F-16s in their aircraft inventory by October of 2015, with the first two aircraft arriving in April of 2014, said Col. Rodney Petithomme, 56th Fighter Wing Detachment 1 commander.
The F-16s will accompany the unmanned aerial vehicle schoolhouses already in place at Holloman. All MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper pilots and sensor operators come to Holloman to receive their training before proceeding to their operational duty assignments.