Once just plans on paper, the F-35 training facilities at Luke Air Force Base are quickly becoming a reality.
The Air Force announced just less than a year ago that Luke would be the training site for the new F-35 Lightning II, a fifth-generation fighter jet that will eventually phase out the service’s F-16s and A-10s. The first F-35 is expected to arrive at Luke in early 2014.
The recent announcement that Luke will receive another 72 F-35’s, bringing the eventual total to 144 aircraft, means Luke will need to accommodate six new F-35 fighter squadrons.
Construction to make way for the aircraft is now well under way, with a completion date of June 2014 projected for the first two fighter squadrons. The construction also includes a $54 million academic training center that will be used to train both pilots and maintainers.
“Out of the 17 construction projects, the ATC is by far the largest,” said Lt. Col. Scott Fredrick, 56th Fighter Wing F-35 division chief. “When completed, it will also house administrative, engineering and operations personnel.”
The ATC, which will hold 12 F-35 simulators, will be more than 145,000 square feet in size and is expected to be ready for training by August 2014. It will be a brand new addition to Luke, but not all construction will start from the ground up.
“As some of the F-16 squadrons begin to make their way to Holloman Air Force Base we will be able to begin modifying those existing buildings to accommodate additional F-35 squadrons,” Fredrick said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plays a vital role in executing part of the construction at Luke, said Daniel Calderon, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public affairs specialist.
“We’re very proud to be a part of this construction project,” he said. “We’re the very best there is when it comes to construction and we’re here to help in any way we can and will be a part of the process for the foreseeable future.”
Some Airmen at Luke will also play a vital role in the construction process, said Senior Master Sgt. Donald Stroud, 56th Maintenance Group F-35 lead.
“The 56th Civil Engineer Squadron is responsible for reviewing and approving all construction plans before any ground is actually broken,” Stroud said. “The 56th Communications Squadron will also be responsible for setting up all secured networks after construction is completed.”
Between fiscal years 2011 and 2014, the projected total construction cost to accommodate the F-35 is $186.15 million.