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‘49th State’ welcomes 49th F-35

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Zade Vadnais
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The 354th Fighter Wing accepted delivery of its 49th F-35A Lightning II aircraft at Eielson, Jan. 25, 2022.

Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Bryce Ward joined Col. Lawrence Evert, 354th Operations Group commander, and Col. Matthew Powell, 354th Maintenance Group commander, to welcome the 49th F-35 to Alaska, the 49th state to join the republic.

“It’s a really amazing experience,” said Ward. “I was fortunate enough to be part of some of the initial discussions when they were talking about bringing the F-35s to Alaska. To be part of those planning efforts and then start seeing them arrive, and to see now the 49th jet—it’s a little surreal.”

The arrival of the jet, assigned to the 355th Fighter Squadron, signals the end of a long beddown process that began in 2016 when Eielson was selected as the home station for the U.S. Air Force’s first operational overseas F-35s. Eielson was chosen due to its strategic location as well as its proximity to the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, the largest training airspace in the world.

“Billy Mitchell said it back in 1935, ‘Whoever holds Alaska will hold the world,’” explained Powell. “Folks are recognizing that the Air Force now has a strategy toward that and that’s what this is. What this means for the base is an entirely new era. We have the largest concentration of fifth-generation airpower on the face of the planet in the state of Alaska, in these ranges, training for the high-end fight. It’s what’s critical in this theater at this time. It just demonstrates how important this location is. It’s a major step toward the Arctic Strategy.”

The 354th Fighter Wing is scheduled to receive a total of 54 F-35s by the summer of 2022.