Red Tails participate in their first exercise with the F-35

From May 4 to May 16, 2024, at the Air Dominance Center in Savannah, Ga., the 187th Fighter Wing participated in Sentry Savannah 2024, a 12-day large force exercise (LFE).

The drill is held annually at the Air Dominance Center in Savannah, Ga. where units from across the US gather together to train in a realistic simulated environment and marked the first exercise deployment with their recently acquired F-35 Lightning II fighter jets. Sentry Savannah is the Air National Guard’s premier LFE dedicated to enhancing air combat capabilities for modern fighter jets.

Red Tails participate in their first exercise with the F-35 Lightning II fifth gen fighters
A squad of F-35A Lightning II fighter jets from the 187th Fighter Wing, Alabama Air National Guard prepare to taxi on the flight line at The Air Dominance Center in Savannah, Ga., May 8, 2024.

“This is our first F-35 movement and our first exercise in nearly two years. So, our Airmen are facing many unfamiliar obstacles and challenges, and are doing a great job of dealing with that adversity. While we aren’t where we want to be yet, it’s obvious that we will get there in time.” said Col. Casey Hall, 187th Fighter Wing, Operations Group commander, to 1st Lt. Michael Luangkhot, 187th Fighter Wing, for the article Red Tails participate in their first exercise with the F-35s. “With more repetition, our pilots and Airmen will continually learn and improve so they’re prepared for any situation in any environment.”

Simulated battlespace that spans over 50,000 square miles

The Red Tails practiced their ability to generate aircraft to fight in simulated battlespace in the eastern seaboard that spanned over 50,000 square miles during the two-week exercise.

“Being here gives us a little taste of what deploying with the F-35s would look like. Being able to maintain the aircraft away from home station is always a challenge when all the tools are not readily available,” said MSgt Justin Kesler, 187th Maintenance group, Low Observable section leader “This type of exercise allows us to find flaws in processes and procedures and innovate new methods to become more efficient.

Red Tails participate in their first exercise with the F-35 Lightning II fifth gen fighters
Airman First Class Logan Harris, 187th Fighter Wing Maintenance Group, maintainer inserts engine exhaust plug into the F-35A Lightning II at The Air Dominance Center in Savannah, Ga., May 8, 2024.

The exercise provides a comprehensive training environment that simulates the full spectrum of modern warfare, ensuring warfighters are prepared for any contingency.

“Although much of our training is aircraft specific, Sentry Savannah offers a unique ability to integrate with other platforms (F-22, F-16, F-15, KC-135, KC-46) in large force exercises over extended pieces of airspace.” said Capt David Alman, 100th Fighter Squadron, pilot “This really showcases the capabilities of the F-35, provides more realistic training, and gives pilots great learning experiences we wouldn’t normally get in daily training.”

Tuskegee Airmen legacy

Having received the first three F-35A Lightning II fighter jets at Dannelly Field, Alabama, on Dec. 5, 2023, the Red Tails are the third Air National Guard unit slated to transition to fifth generation fighter aircraft.

Red Tails participate in their first exercise with the F-35 Lightning II fifth gen fighters
A fleet of F-35A Lightning II’s from the 187th Fighter Wing, Alabama Air National Guard sit on the flight line at The Air Dominance Center in Savannah, Ga., May 8, 2024.

In 2007, the 100th Fighter Squadron was renumbered from the 160th Fighter Squadron to pay tribute to the historic legacy of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen.

The Tuskegee Airmen, also known as the Red Tail Flyers, have left an indelible mark on the history of American aviation.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black military aviators in the US Army Air Corps, a precursor of the US Air Force. Pilots, navigators, maintainers, bombardiers, instructors and support staff all trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 15,000 sorties during World War II in Europe and North Africa.

The Tuskegee Airmen painted their Curtiss P-40 Warhawks, Republic P-47 Thunderbolts and North American P-51 Mustangs with a red-tailed paint scheme.

P-51 Red Tail
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According to official USAF documents, it is well documented that our WWII bomber pilots would look out their windows and gain confidence from Red Tail fighters flying beside them. It has been stated they took comfort in knowing their chances for survival were higher with a Red Tail escort than from any other outfit in 12th and 15th Air Force.

Tails painted red for 187th Fighter Wing F-35 jets

As a tribute to their legacy, some of the F-16s in the 100th Fighter Squadron had their tails painted red, honoring the brave men who paved the way for generations of pilots to come.

The F-35 Lightning II will now take its place on the mantle, charged with continuing to accelerate the Red Tail legacy.

Model
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Photo credit: U.S. Air Force