story by 1st Class Jakob Hambright, 56 FW/PA
LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. – For the Airmen at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, the mission to train the world’s greatest fighter pilots revolves around two aircraft; the F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-35 Lightning II. Geo-separated, the 550th Fighter Squadron based at Kingsley Field, Oregon, and assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing, extends the mission to include the F-15C Eagle.
Attached to the 173rd FW, the 550th FS serves as the U.S. Air Force’s only formal F-15 training unit and is the largest total force integrated active association in the Air Education and Training Command.
“Our mission is to train the world’s greatest F-15C fighter pilots,” said Lt. Col. Paul Baker, commander of the 550th FS. “We also focus on developing and training our multi-capable enlisted support force of the 550th.”
As the active duty F-15C Formal Training Unit mission transitioned to the Kingsley Field, the 550th FS was activated.
“The 550th executes the TFI construct to a high degree of success,” said Baker. “We’re able to provide valuable insight and knowledge to the 56th FW on something that is ingrained in how the U.S. Air Force operates as a total force.”
While operating at Kingsley Field, the 550th FS has seamlessly integrated with various units in the 173rd FW, allowing the 550th FS to maintain itself while being separated from the 56th FW.
“The 550th Fighter Squadron is an integral piece of the 173rd Fighter Wing,” said Col. Lee Bouma, 173rd FW commander. “When you look across our wing, it is impossible to tell who is a guardsman and who is active duty.”
The 550th FS works closely with the 56th FW to accomplish the mission.
“A couple things that make the 550th FS unique compared to a normal fighter squadron at Luke is that we are a geographically separated unit,” said Baker. “We have a fantastic relationship with all of the groups and leadership at Luke AFB, so anytime we need help with something or a specific resource, we can reach back and get the support we need. The other difference is that we are more of a Fighter Generation Squadron having a mix of 31 different AFSCs integrated in multiple groups and squadrons on Kingsley Field.”
As the F-15C begins to be pulled from active service, Baker looks at the potential future for the 550th FS.
“As the F-15 sunsets at Kingsley Field and a future mission is announced for this base, the 550th will play an integral role in helping the transition,” said Baker. “We will bring in experienced active duty pilots, maintainers and support specialists that will have recent skill, knowledge and understanding of the next platform. These members will likely help Kingsley in a smooth transition to the future mission.”
Even though they are not located at the same base or even in the same state, the Airmen of the 550th FS and the 56th FW have the same goal of training the world’s greatest fighter pilots.