PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) – Air Force personnel officially welcomed the F-35A Lightning II to Tyndall Air Force Base. Tyndall will become home to 3 squadrons of F-35s. 

“It’s been incredible,” said 325th Fighter Wing Commander Colonel George Watkins.

Tyndall received their first three F-35 Lightning II’s at the end of Aug. Since then, five more have arrived over the last two months.

Their arrival signals Tyndall is truly on the mend after Hurricane Michael destroyed the base in 2018.    

“It’s been pretty exciting to get the planes off the ground and get the pilots into training,” Watkins said.

Tyndall has been using the F-35s in their checkered flag exercises.

“We’ve got about ten pilots right now, and every month we’ll add a couple more pilots to the mix,” Watkins said.

Monday’s official F-35 welcoming ceremony is only the beginning.

Tyndall is slated to have a total of 78 Lightning II’s. That’s three squadrons of 24, with six jets as backup.

Guests at Monday’s ceremony didn’t just get to see the F-35 up close. Tyndall Air Force Base even offered a simulation. Just to give guests a taste of how an F-35 works in action.

The simulator allows the pilot to take off and engage computer-generated enemy aircraft.

“It’s really exciting because I remember five years ago when I came here two days after Hurricane Michael hit this base, it was it was demolished. And so, it’s been a lot of work,” said (R) Florida Senator Rick Scott.

Senator Scott says he believes General Brian Laidlaw has a lot to do with the Tyndall recovery. In 2018, Colonel Laidlaw rode out Hurricane Michael as the commander of Tyndall’s 325th fighter squadron

“This is the reflection of a lot of hard work by a lot of people in this area. And I wanted to tip my hat to all of those people, both on and off base. Congratulate them on a job well done and say thank you on behalf of our country,” said General Brian Laidlaw

Before Michael, Tyndall was the Air Force’s training home for F-22 pilots.

Besides the Raptor training squadron, Tyndall also had an operational F-22 squadron.

All three F-35 squadrons will be operational.