Arizona's Luke Air Force Base will get three more squadrons of F-35As for training, the service announced Thursday. Pictured: An F-35A arrives at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., in March. (Lockheed Martin)
Plans for all F-35A training are set with the Air Force announcing Thursday that three more squadrons will head to Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.
The 72 additional jets will bring the total number of F-35s there to 144. The base was already selected to for an F-35A training center last summer. The new announcement means that all F-35A pilots will train at either Luke or at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the location of the current schoolhouse for instructor pilots.
Luke’s selection continues its tradition of pilot training. It is currently the site of active duty F-16 pilot training, along with the training for Fighting Falcon pilots from partner countries. Foreign F-35A pilots will train at the base.
“The decision to base additional F-35 fighters here ensures the long-term viability of our mission and continues our legacy of training the world’s greatest fighter pilots,” said Brig. Gen. Mike Rothstein, 59th Fighter Wing commander, in a release.
F-35As should begin arriving in 2014, depending on production schedules, according to the Air Force. Luke was selected because of its facility and ramp capacity, range access, weather and capacity for future growth, the service said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that while he was happy the Air Force selected the base for training, he was “cautiously optimistic” about the health of the F-35 program.
“I urge [F-35 program head Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan] and the Department of Defense to demand excellence from the Air Force and the contractor to ensure that this critical program builds on recent contracting, technical and manufacturing progress,” McCain said in a June 27 statement.
At least 23 pilots have already been trained at Eglin Air Base, where pilots have logged more than 2,300 sorties and more than 3,500 flying hours, according to the Air Force. In addition to Eglin, F-35s also are flying for operational and developmental testing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The Air Force announced in June that it expects the F-35A to reach its initial operational capability in December 2016.