Residents near Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Florida were told they might experience more nighttime noise than usual. It isn’t from late summer thunderstorms, but they will hear the wonderfully thunderous sound of the Lightning IIs. The base told nearby residents that the 58th Fighter Squadron will be conducting night flying operations involving the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, with the aircraft conducting flight missions between 8 and 9:30 pm nightly.
The evening flying is a requirement for the 58th FS “Mighty Gorillas” training operations and comes just as the base’s second F-35 squadron has been officially activated. The 33rd Fighter Wing announced that the 60th Fighter Squadron, previously assigned to the wing but then deactivated in 2009, was reactivated last Friday as the new home of training for pilots and maintenance personnel for the F-35A. With the activation of the new squadron, as many as 500 additional personnel could be deployed to Eglin.
“Standing up a second F-35 squadron marks a pivotal moment in our Wing’s history as a premier producer of combat readiness,” Col. Jack Arthaud, the 33rd Fighter Wing commander, told reporters on Friday as the 60th Fighter Squadron was reactivated.
“The F-35 is foundational to the Air Force’s future fighter force, and expanding our training capacity helps to ensure our combat air forces are provided with the airmen and pilots needed to maintain our nation’s asymmetric competitive advantage,” Arthaud added.
75th Anniversary of First Reactivation
While the 60th Fighter Squadron doesn’t actually have its F-35A fighter jets just yet, the reactivation on August 20 was still a special moment as it took place on the 75th anniversary of its previous reactivation in 1946 after World War II.
The unit was first activated in 1940 at Mitchel Field, New York as the 60th Pursuit Squadron and then attached to the 33d Pursuit Group on January 15, 1941. The unit was subsequently redesignated as the 60th Fighter Squadron “Flying Crows” in May 1942 and it was responsible for the continual mission of air defense of the United States.
In late 1942, it then took part in combat operations in the Mediterranean Theater and then the China-Burma-India Theaters. For its service in central Tunisia, the 60th FS was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation for combat operations.
When it was reactivated in 1946, the unit flew the North American P-51 Mustang, and later the McDonnell F-4E Phantom II until it transitioned to the McDonnell Douglas F-15A Eagle in the 1970s. The unit saw its first combat deployment since the Second World War when ten of its F-15s took part in support of Operation Urgent Fury – the U.S. invasion of Grenada in October 1983. It later flew support missions during Operation Just Cause, the U.S. invasion of Panama in December 1989.
The squadron took part in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) when it participated in Operation Noble Eagle following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The last F-15 mission took place in early December 2008 and the squadron was inactivated on January 1, 2009.
Now that the squadron has been officially reactivated, the incremental arrival of its F-35A aircraft – the conventional takeoff and landing variant of the state-of-the-art Joint Strike Fighter – is expected to begin this fall.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.