The F-22s and T-38s will bring an additional 31,000 annual operations to the main airfield.
EGLIN AFB — Eglin Air Force Base could be the home of pilot and maintenance training for the F-22 Raptor fighter jet for as long as three years, under the terms of an "interim beddown" proposal accepted Friday by a White House office that coordinates federal environmental efforts.
In the wake of October's Hurricane Michael, which all but destroyed Panama City's Tyndall AFB, Tyndall's F-22 training units have been migrating to Eglin. Coming to Eglin are Tyndall's 43rd Fighter Squadron, which trains F-22 pilots, the 372nd Training Squadron’s Detachment 4, which provides F-22 maintenance training, and the 2nd Fighter Squadron, which flies the T-38 Talon, providing air-to-air combat training as part of F-22 training.
In all, 31 Raptors, 18 T-38s and as many as 800 personnel will be at Eglin when the transfer of F-22 operations from Tyndall is completed.
As part of moves like the transfer of F-22 training, the Air Force is required to assess likely environmental impacts. Due to the urgent need to move F-22 operations, the White House's Council on Environmental Quality accepted an abbreviated environmental assessment from the Air Force that identified jet noise as "the only projected significant environmental impact" from the move.
According to an Air Force document, bringing the F-22s and T-38s to Eglin will dramatically increase the number of "operations" — aircraft takeoffs and landings, counted separately — at Eglin's main airfield. Currently, there are 52,000 operations annually at Eglin; the F-22s and T-38s will bring an additional 31,000 operations to the main airfield "including a potential nineteen percent increase in nighttime operations."
Additionally, according to the Air Force assessment, noise from F-22 and T-38 operations could "cause significant impacts to the areas to the west and southwest of Eglin Main."
According to Mike Spaits of the Eglin AFB public affairs office, the interim arrangements can remain in place for up to three years.
In the meantime, though, the Air Force is embarking on the preparation of a more detailed "special environmental assessment" seeking public review and comment on the interim arrangements. Comments can be sent to Spaits by mail at Public Affairs, 96 TW/PA, 101 West D Ave., Building 1, Suite 238, Eglin AFB, FL 32542 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The public comment period closes Jan. 31.
Beyond that, Spaits explained, the Air Force will develop a far more detailed "environmental impact statement." Both the special assessment and the impact statement could find that there are environmental impacts from F-22 and T-38 operations at Eglin beyond noise concerns, such as possible impacts from increased fueling, according to Spaits.
Part of the environmental impact statement will, Spaits said, be a determination of whether or not Eglin AFB will become a permanent home to the Air Force's F-22 training.
Depending on the timelines and results of the special environmental assessment and environmental impact statement, according to Spaits, final decisions on basing of F-22 operations could come well before the three-year limit of the beddown.
"The F-22s being here now is an interim step," Spaits explained.