Dannelly Field preparing for arrival of F-35 fighter jets in 2023

Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 8:23 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Preparations are underway at Dannelly Field in Montgomery as the 187th Fighter Wing awaits the arrival of 20 prestigious F-35 aircrafts.

It became official in April of last year that Dannelly Field would become home base to the F-35A Lightning II. The fighter jet is considered to be the most advanced in the world today.

“It can see things and do things that other aircraft cannot, and again, it’s a game-changer for us,” said 187th Fighter Wing commander Col. Douglas DeMaio.

The 187th Fighter Wing is just one of two bases in the country to be selected as an Air National Guard F-35A Lightening II location. Also selected as a location for the jets was Truax Field in Wisconsin.

DeMaio said the fighter jets are not expected to begin arriving in Montgomery until December 2023, but preparations are already underway at Dannelly Field.

“We are eagerly awaiting and planning for the aircraft to be here so that we can be the best fighter wing in the world,” DeMaio said.

“The goal of this is getting those 20 aircraft here, and so much builds up to that because you have to prepare for a new aircraft for training and maintenance and sustainment of the systems, and that is all updated from the F-16s so we have to do quite a bit of construction on the base,” he went on to say.

DeMaio said pilots responsible for flying the F-35′s have already been selected, and as wing commander, he is among those who get to fly.

‘We have some few new pilots that are going through training right now, so they’ll go through squadron officer school and then to pilot training and then they’ll go out to fly the F-35,” DeMaio said.

“The training program for a person like me is going to take three months or so and that’s called a transition course. For someone that’s coming right out of pilot training, you need upwards of six to 12 months to really get good enough to fly it.”

DeMaio said they are transitioning to what they call “strategic competition” whilst transitioning to the F-35. He also said they have begun implementing a process known as agile combat.

“That’s moving from place to place, a lot like the Tuskegee airmen did in World War II,” DeMaio said.

The decision to place the jets at Dannelly Field is expected to create more than a thousand jobs in the River Region, and DeMaio said will attract more advanced technology and people with advanced degrees.

“When you bring in a new system or a new company or a capability, it really lifts up the entire community,” DeMaio said. “Education-wise, sustainment-wise, jobs, and those kind of things, it attracts a lot more.”

Moving forward, DeMaio said there are about 10 to 15 structures on base that need to be upgraded to better suit the new aircrafts.

The current F-16s at Dannelly field will be transitioned to other bases for use after the arrival of the F-35s.

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