F-35 arrives at Glendale’s Luke Air Force Base









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Luke Air Force Base finally lands F-35

By Paul Giblin The Republic | azcentral.com Mon Mar 10, 2014 11:55 PM

Air Force test pilot Roderick Cregier flew several slow, low loops through the Arizona sky before landing Luke Air Force Base’s first F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter jet Monday, launching a new era for Glendale’s 72-year-old installation.

A group of about 250 Luke airmen, family members, civilian employees and veterans applauded as Col. Cregier shut down the jet’s thundering engine and popped its canopy.

“This is a day that has been a long time in coming,” said Col. John Hanna, who oversees flight operations at Luke as commander of the 56th Operations Group.

“It’s the result of many years of hard work by countless people in the military and in the community,” Hanna said during a news conference alongside the base’s runway.

The matte-gray plane with tail No. LF5030 is the first of what is expected to be 144 of the supersonic jets assigned to the base during the next decade.

Luke officials expect additional F-35s to arrive a couple of times a month until the base has six squadrons of 24 planes each. They anticipate receiving about 15 more F-35s during the rest of 2014.

Luke is projected to become the Air Force’s primary F-35 pilot-training base and the largest F-35 base worldwide. U.S. pilots and foreign pilots alike will train there before deploying to combat units worldwide.

“We have four qualified F-35 pilots right now stationed here at Luke Air Force Base, so us receiving aircraft means that we get to start flying these aircraft, which is very important for our fighter pilots,” said Lt. Col. Michael “Jeb” Ebner, commander of the 61st Fighter Squadron, Luke’s first F-35 unit.

The F-35 is the most technologically advanced military aircraft in existence, and it is projected to be a critical component of the U.S. defense strategy for the next 40 to 50 years.

F-35s are designed to evade enemy radar and to carry advanced avionics and weapons systems, which marks a “quantum improvement” in capabilities compared with older U.S. and foreign fighter planes, according to Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall, who oversees the federal agency’s acquisition, technology and logistics programs.

The single-seat, single-engine planes can hit Mach 1.6, or roughly 1,200 mph. Their on-board computer systems display flight information, targeting information and infrared images on the insides of pilots’ helmet visors.

“To have that sort of aircraft will ensure our air dominance for the next 50 years or the first half of the 21st century,” Ebner said.

The twin-tail F-35s are being built at Lockheed Martin’s assembly plant in Fort Worth, Texas. The company is building three variants — the F-35A for the Air Force, the F-35B for the Marines and the F-35C for the Navy. Only the Air Force version will be stationed at Luke.

The planes’ costs are difficult to peg because the Pentagon orders them in small batches and prices are negotiated for each batch. Furthermore, the Pentagon orders the engines separately in small batches from Pratt & Whitney, which does not disclose the prices for engines for the models.

According to purchase announcements late last year, the latest cost of engine-equipped F-35As is approximately $131.9million. The Marine and Navy versions cost more.

Most of the 136 F-16 Fighting Falcons currently at Luke will be reassigned to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico as new F-35s arrive at Luke. The first two F-16 squads are set to transfer this year and next.

Only 26 F-16s are expected to remain at Luke after all of the F-35s arrive.

Monday’s landing marked a soft opening of sorts for Luke’s new mission. The plane’s official VIP rollout ceremony is scheduled for Friday, just ahead of Luke’s “Lightning in the Desert” public air show on Saturday and Sunday.

The F-35 will be on display during the air show, and Air Force officials are trying to arrange a flyby by other F-35s during the event.

After the show, Cregier will take Luke’s first F-35 to Edwards Air Force Base in California for additional testing. LF5030 will return to Luke sometime later, Ebner said.

In a related matter, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is scheduled to strap into the back seat of an F-16 Thunderbird fighter jet to promote the weekend’s air show. The Thunderbird unit is the Air Force’s precision-flying team.

Thunderbird pilots allow their passengers to set the limits, said Tech. Sgt. Jacob Richmond, unit spokesmen, but a 40-minute preview ride can feature horizontal flips and U-turns, vertical twists and loops, sideways and upside-down flight, speeds of up to 600 mph, and as much as 9 G’s of force.

The air show is free. Gates open at 9 a.m. both days.





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