First F-35 Squadron Plans Detailed

Feb 6, 2009
David A. Fulghum davef@aviationweek.com

The first three squadrons of F-35s - with at least 59 aircraft - will be formed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., between 2010, when the first aircraft arrives, and mid-2013 when No. 60 is due.

Of the three training squadrons to be stood up, one will be U.S. Air Force with 24 conventional takeoff aircraft, one will be Marine Corps with 20 short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft and the last, with 15 aircraft, will belong to the Navy.

The Air Force's bed-down decision involves temporary operational limitations on flight training to minimize noise impact in the nearby town of Valparaiso. Meanwhile, supplemental environmental studies will be conducted as the Air Force works on a final study on F-35 noise.

Details have yet to be pinned down, but the Joint Strike Fighter is expected to be louder than the F-15 and F-16 and about the same as the F/A-18E/Fs and F-22s, says USAF Maj. Gen. Charles Davis, the current F-35 program manager and the incoming commander of Eglin's Air Armament Center.

As part of a two-tier, environmental agreement - after the first 59 aircraft are in place - the Navy and the local community will consider increasing the number of F-35 training aircraft on the base to 113, according to Davis. Along with the integrated pilot school house, all JSF maintenance training will be conducted at Eglin.

The first Marine aircraft arrives in 2011. The fleet is expected to grow at the rate of about one per month. By 2014 the unit also will begin establishing its relationship with the Air Armament Center where the armed service develops its new kinetic and non-kinetic weapons and studies the introduction of new missions. For example, all initial F-35 Block 0.5 aircraft, because of their advanced electronically scanned array radars, will arrive capable of training for cruise-missile defense, Davis says.

To keep down the noise impact for Valparaiso, operations will be largely restricted to Eglin's East-West runway. Later, the North-South runway may be re-oriented away from the town and extended to the south to allow limited use, according to Kathleen Ferguson, deputy assistant secretary for installations.

If the number of training aircraft isn't allowed to expand, the Corps will likely establish its own flight training center at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C. The first F-35 operations base will be established by the Marines in 2013, Davis says.

There are to be at least 10 JSF training squadrons formed. The Pentagon is looking at another 156 installations to determine the remaining JSF bases for operations, additional training, depots and combined active-duty/Air National Guard/Reserve units. Production of the F-35 is scheduled to end in 2035.

Photo: Lockheed Martin

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