‘A lot of things have changed’: Eielson Air Force Base to resume tours

Exterior: Two F-16s and two F-35 fighter jets fly against snowcapped mountains.
Two Eielson based F-16s escorted the first two F-35s assigned to the base as they pass by the Alaska Range on April 21, 2020. The last two F-35s arrived in April, bringing the total number of the advanced fighter jets based at Eielson to 54. (Jerilynn Quintanilla/U.S. Air Force)

Eielson Air Force Base outside of Fairbanks had for years been offering tours of the base to members of the public.

But, like a lot of other things, that came to halt in early 2020, soon after federal officials declared a public health emergency due to the rapid spread of COVID-19.

“Pretty much the start of the pandemic is when we kind of put it on hold,” said Staff Sgt. Beaux Hebert, Eielson’s community liaison.

The tours are now resuming, and the military is focused on updating the public about what has changed on base, said Hebert.

“Over the last two years, while we’ve been on this hiatus, a lot has happened,” he said.

The biggest change is the arrival of 54 F-35s and formation of the 354th Fighter Wing that flies and maintains the advanced warplanes. Hebert said along with the F-35s came a change of mission for Eielson, which transitioned from being mainly a training base to one that’s charged with responding to trouble spots anywhere in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

“We went from where our main mission was just Red Flag-Alaska to now, we are a combat-coded wing,” he said. “A lot of things have changed, so we want to be able to showcase that.”

Hebert said the monthly tours will also offer an opportunity for the public to check out an F-35 or other aircraft based at Eielson.

“We’re going to try to make it to where each time we go out there, we have a static display, whether it be an F-16 or an F-35,” he said.

He added that those aircraft may not be available for all tours, because of mission requirements. But he said they’ll also offer a lot of other interesting venues.

“It could be aircraft maintenance. It could be the fire department. Security forces, explosive ordnance disposal,” he said.

The first tour will be held this month, and that’ll be the only tour this year. But Hebert said they’ll pick up again next April and run through September. He said base officials set up the April-through-September timeframe because they believe that’s when area residents and tourists would be most likely to visit.

“We’re trying to keep it in the warmer months,” he said.

Each tour will have 10 to 20 people, he said.

Hebert said people who are interested in a tour should contact the base public affairs office to get on the list. The office’s phone number and email address are available at eielson.af.mil.

Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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