F-35 Lightning II Arrives at Luke AFB: And the Aussies Prepare to Come
03/13/2014: F-35 Lightning II Arrives at Luke AFB
By Paul Giblin
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…..
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…
And the significance of this landing has been noted Down Under:
AY hello to Top Gun 5.0. Veteran fighter pilots Andrew Jackson and David Bell are the two men at the tip of the spear as the RAAF shifts towards its next-generation combat aircraft, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The two Squadron Leaders, based at RAAF base Williamtown near Newcastle, will be the first Australians to fly the multi-billion dollar machine, billed as the most tech-heavy fighter plane on the planet.
They will spend four years at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona, first learning how to fly the fifth-generation fighters.
They will then instruct other Aussie pilots as they filter through in the lead-up to the F-35’s gradual deployment here from 2018.
Listen to defence chiefs talk excitedly about the new aircraft and it would be easy to think they were discussing a new computer or mobile phone, not a war-fighting machine.
But that, according to Air Vice- Marshal Kym Osley, the RAAF’s head of capability transition, is just the point.
“Look at it like this: the F-111 was a landline; a telephone connected to the system made out of black plastic,” he said.
“The F/A-18 is a huge brick mobile phone, but the F-35 is like the latest iPhone.”
This iPhone can drop bombs, evade enemies using stealth technology and “sees” the battlefield in real-time below, stretching out for hundreds of kilometres in any direction. Sqn Ldr Bell, 34, saw it as “a game-changer”.
“We’re going to have to adapt the way we think about air combat to be able to utilise the F-35 to its full potential,” he said.
“To get in on the ground floor and be one of the first guys to start doing that is a real privilege.”
AVM Osley said the new machine would trigger a “generational change” in the way the RAAF approached air combat….
Excerpted from Neil Keene, “Top Gun Veterans Learn to Fly RAAF’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, Daily Telegraph (March 12, 2014).
Credit Video: 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Luke Air Force Base receiving its first F-35 Lightning II