After Being Destroyed By Hurricane Michael, Tyndall Air Force Base Is Up and Fighting Back

We all remember Hurricane Michael last year. It was the vicious storm that killed 72 people last October, including 57 in the U.S. And created an estimated $25.1 billion in damages.

It was the third most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in this country in terms of pressure. And the strongest storm in terms of maximum sustained wind speed to strike the contiguous U.S. since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

It was also the strongest storm on record in the Florida Panhandle. And the fourth strongest landfall hurricane in the contiguous U.S. in terms of wind speed.

And one of the many casualties of Hurricane Michael was Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Florida.

Home to the F-22 Raptor

Tyndall Air Force Base was an important part of the network of bases protecting the continental United States.

It was home to the 325th Fighter wing, which flies the F-22 Raptor. That’s the most sophisticated fighter in the Pentagon’s arsenal.

Fortunately, most of those fighters were moved away from the base before the storm struck. Command and control capabilities were also transferred in advance.

Much of the base’s personnel were also evacuated prior to the Category 4 hurricane hitting. And it’s a good thing these precautions were taken.

Direct Hit Flattens Base

Tyndall Air Force Base took a direct hit from Michael’s 155-mile-per-hour winds. Trees were leveled and “significant structural damage” was caused to many of the 484 buildings on the base.

Some aircraft in hangars were destroyed. Debris was scattered over 600 acres of land.

Colonel Jeff Hawkins is the vice wing commander of the 325th Fighter Wing. He was one of fewer than 100 people at the base when the hurricane struck.

“At the tail end, right before the eye hit, you could hear the roof start to rip off,” he said. “And we actually had a waterfall in the room we happened to be in.”

‘A Scene From WWII’

Following the hurricane, Hawkins said it was like a scene from World War II.

“Where places have been carpet-bombed, you’ve got trees downed across the landscape,” he said.

A Facebook post stated, “Every building has severe damage. Many buildings are a complete loss.”

The base lost power, as well as water and sewer service. In fact, Tyndall was left in such a bleak condition that its future was in doubt.

‘Air Base of the Future’

But that doubt is now being erased. Instead of trying to recreate the base exactly as it was before, the Air Force has another objective in mind.

Air Force officials say they are rebuilding Tyndall to become the “air base of the future.”

They say it will be resistant to storm surges and wind speeds of up to 180 miles per hour.

The expense of cleaning up the mess and recovery was approximately $200 million. And to rebuild will be about $3 billion.

Busier Than Before

In addition to protecting the country, Tyndall Air Force Base is important for the Bay County local economy.

People work there, students go to school there and retirees shop there. It’s estimated that about 26,000 people are reliant on the base.

There are plans in action to improve the base. Including placing three squadrons of the F-35 there. That’s the Air Force’s newest fighter. Not to mention at least 24 MQ-9 Reaper drones by 2023.

Neal Dunn is a Florida Congressional representative. He said, “We’re looking at almost 100 combat aircraft based out of Tyndall. It will actually be busier than it was before the storm.”

Working With a Blank Slate

Colonel Scott Matthews is an Air Force civil engineer helping with the reconstruction of Tyndall.

He said Tyndall Air Force Base will be the first specially designed 21st century Air Force base.

“We want to develop new technologies,” he said. “We’re talking smart buildings, we’re talking layouts. And (getting) away from some of the way we used to have our 20th century installations.”

He added that despite the devastation, there is an upside to having a blank slate. The Air Force can now design facilities that aren’t tied to specific weapons systems. They will be able to adapt to changing needs over time.

Tyndall Air Force Base took a huge hit from Hurricane Michael. But soon it will be bigger and better than ever.

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