Banner month for the F-35A and the 33rd

  • Published
  • By Col. Lance Pilch, 33rd Fighter Wing commader


Thanks for reading the first issue of Nomad News!  In future articles, I hope my words will be more profound.  For now, I’d like to just say thank you for the great work and write a little about Northern Lightning.               

Let’s start with Northern Lightning.  As you know, this was the largest F-35 deployment to date.  We flew 138 sorties, 229 hours, and dropped 24 GBU-12s.  More important than the numbers, however, was how each of you performed to get the mission done.  The little things impressed me: the enthusiasm of each crew chief on the flightline, the willingness of each pilot to stay extra hours to plan the nuances of the mission, etc.  Your hard work and enthusiasm showed. 

As a result of your efforts, the F-35 performed exceptionally well and dominated the large force exercises.  To put it simply, you can’t fight what you can’t see.  Although the F-35 is not invisible, its stealth capabilities made an enormous difference in every fight.  It reminded me of flying in the F-22…but there are a few things it does BETTER than the F-22 that showed during the deployment:  (1) more fuel and loiter time, (2) better datalink capability, and (3) better air-to-ground capability.  So although immature, the aircraft adds a lot to the fight right now, and because of all of your efforts and innovation, it’s only getting better. 

There is an article on AFLink: F-35A continues 5th-gen tradition of bullying legacy aircraft, where a pilot is interviewed who flew as an adversary to Nomads in the F-35. I encourage you to read it.  Let’s just say he didn’t have very much fun during the exercise.  Interestingly, I came out of the exercise not thinking “the F-35 dominates” (although that is true in many cases) but “the F-35 makes everyone else better.”  Flying with F-18E/F Super Hornets and EF-18G Growers from the Navy was a great experience, and they left Northern Lightning knowing that they want F-35s on their side. 

Some more interesting notes:  we had C2 during every large force exercise, which enhanced everyone’s situational awareness.  EVERY controller in the exercise was trained in the 337th.  It was evident that our professional Air Battle Manager Instructors trained them well.  Intelligence support was also a high point; I received numerous comments during the exercise about the knowledge and professionalism of our Intel Airmen. 

To say the least, Northern Lightning was a success.  What’s more, it capped off a record-setting 339-sortie month (the previous sortie record was about 280).  Nomads, you crushed it in August.  I can’t wait to see what you accomplish in future months.  Whatever arises, I know you’ll be up to the challenge. 

So let me just say thank you for all the great work.  Congratulations on the 2 August F-35 IOC declaration, the successful surge, the record-setting week, the record-setting month, and the successful Northern Lightning exercise.  Thanks even more for all the blood, sweat, and tears you put in every day to perform our mission:  training and graduating outstanding professionals. 

I’m proud of you!