Escaping sea fog and rain, Gorillas execute complex training ops

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Briana Beavers
  • 33rd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The Gorillas took 14 F-35A Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 58th Fighter Squadron to MacDill Air Force Base, Florida to perform flying-training missions, Feb. 20 - Mar. 8, 2024.  

By avoiding weather attrition at home station, the 58th FS and Aircraft Maintenance Unit had the opportunity to execute complex training operations and collaborate with a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 6th Air Refueling Wing.   

“At Eglin this time of year, we typically get a lot of adverse weather, some sea fog, and some rain rolling in,” said Lt. Col. John Green, 58th FS commander. “In the phase of training that the students are in it’s essential for them to practice a lot of pattern work and landings, so we escaped that weather to get these students that experience.” 

This training allowed the 58th FS student pilots to develop skills critical to the F-35’s primary mission. 

“We brought out two groups of students; one group is at the very end of the course and the other at the beginning,” said Green. “The students who are at their capstone are completing difficult missionized scenarios like multi-role, air-to-air, and some air-to-surface missions while our young students are flying in the fighter jet for the very first time.” 

While the 58th FS established a rhythm with training sorties, the 58th AMU tested their ability to perform with limited resources. 

“This TDY benefits our maintainers by challenging them to work in a different setting with less,” said 2nd Lt. Jakob Kinsey, 58th AMU executive officer. “Essentially, the crew has to maintain rapid production of jets like we do at home with minimum manning and limited support equipment.”  

With limitations in mind, the 58th AMU ensured they were prepared for potential obstacles.  

“MacDill has a coral runway that (wears down) our tires,” Kinsey said. “Ops was planning on doing touch and goes, so we tripled the typical amount of tires we bring to mitigate having to do part runs for tires like last year.” 

By challenging the maintenance units to function at this capacity away from Eglin AFB, the Gorillas highlight their Agile Combat Employment, ACE, capabilities. In turn, this fosters a sense of trust and cohesion amongst the units.  

“(Maintenance) has been producing jets at an astronomical rate,” Green said. “They’ve gone above and beyond all expectations. There’s no way that we could get the students training and provide the next generation of F-35 pilots without that support!” 

While on TDY, F-35 student pilots accomplished aerial refuels with the 6th ARW.  

“This is definitely one of the coolest things I’ve done,” said Capt. Zachary Lietzau, 58th FS student pilot. “This was my first aerial refuel sortie and my introduction to basic flight maneuvers, so after about 30 minutes of simulated (air-to-air combat) I went straight into a refuel. The whole experience was pretty intense.”  

Incorporating these refuel trainings allow the F-35 pilots to develop skills for future combat. 

"Gas is a limited resource,” said Capt. Zach Mangers, 6th ARW KC-135 pilot. “Whether it’s fighters, cargo, or bombers, everybody needs it to maximize their time in the air in order to project that lethality in the fight.” 

During their short time at MacDill AFB, the 58th FS and AMU personnel conducted 211 effective sorties, flew over 320 hours, and graduated three student pilots leading to a significant improvement in the squadron’s combat readiness and mission efficacy.