The 43d Fighter Squadron's final sting

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Tiffany Del Oso
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Since 2002, the 43d Fighter Squadron has been training and preparing F-22 Raptor pilots for global air dominance. Amidst the 325th Fighter Wing’s mission transition from training to warfighting, the F-22 B-Course began moving to Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, making the eight student pilots of class 23-ABR the last for the 43d FS.

The Raptor is a fifth-generation fighter aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air warfare and is unique to the United States, making this last class of pilots to graduate from the 43d FS part of an exclusive group - the world’s only F-22 pilots.

“It’s been phenomenal so far,” said Capt. Sawyer Murray, 43d FS student pilot with class 23-ABR. “With each person who comes back to fly, it’s clear that they are proud to come back and fly under the hornet patch again. It’s a tight-knit group and it’s clear everyone who works for the 43d takes pride in the mission of creating and mentoring the next generation of air dominance professionals.”

Since their beginning, the 43d has proudly produced 830 Raptor pilots, all the while navigating a significant geographical separation from the academic and simulation portion of the course at Tyndall and a global pandemic.

Lt. Col. Will Barksdale, 43d FS commander, explained that despite the seemingly chaotic turn of events, the men and women of the 43d prevailed, even expanding the B-Course from its 28 graduates per year to 30, meeting Headquarters Air Force production requirements for the first time.

“It’s an unfortunate turn of events that has led to the F-22 Formal Training Unit mission leaving Tyndall, ultimately stemming from the aftermath of Hurricane Michael,” said Barksdale. “It will be difficult to see that legacy leave the Gulf Coast.”

The Eastern Gulf of Mexico provides an essential airspace needed to train in a premier air-to-air fighter, making it a prime location for the student pilots to perform many of their training flights. The legacy of training in the panhandle is not lost on the members of the last class.

“I feel super blessed to be given the opportunity to learn to fly the F-22 in Florida,” said 1st Lt. Patrick Timmons, 43d student pilot with class 23-ABR. “Every Raptor pilot has trained in the 43d and it’s special to be given the chance to join their ranks in the lineage of Florida Raptor drivers.”

The 325th FW has already begun to feel the impending absence of the 43d FS, celebrating class 23-ABR’s first flight as well as the 43d FS’s first two F-22’s to make the official transition and emerge onto Tyndall’s flight line bearing the 1st Fighter Wing’s tail flash as they departed the installation for their new home.

“It’s very bittersweet,” expressed Murray. “The folks at the 325th Training Support Squadron are feeling the sting of the 43d shutting down, so it was impressed on us early how much weight it carries to be a part of the [last class] here in the panhandle. I think we all feel like we have an impressive legacy to live up to.”

Barksdale added that the people of the 43d FS are who makes the mission possible. Throughout an extensive transitionary period, he stated that the men and women of the squadron handled every situation with grace and resolve.

As the 43d FS dissolves, the 325th FW will continue to look back with pride when remembering the determination and successful training of Raptor pilots who project unrivaled combat air power at any time, any place.

“We aren’t perfect, we never claimed to be,” said Barksdale. “But we’ve hit our stride, produced the required number of high-quality students for the Combat Air Force and we’ve done it in a very challenging triple-threat environment.”