Escorted by two F-16s, Luke Air Force Base’s first F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter arrived a little after 11 a.m. March 11 from the Lockheed Martin factory in Fort Worth, Tex.
“This is a day that has been a long time coming,” said Col. John Hanna, 56th Operations Group commander, at a press conference after the jet landed. “It’s the result of many years of hard work by countless people in the military and in the community.”
The jet is the first of 144 that will eventually be assigned to Luke. Approximately 16 U.S. jets are expected by the end of 2014, and the full contingent of aircraft should arrive incrementally over the next decade.
“Having F-35s at Luke ensures the long-term viability of our mission and safeguards the long-term presence of the base as a community partner and an economic engine in the West Valley,” Hanna said.
The 56th Fighter Wing held a formal “unveiling ceremony” for the jet the morning of March 14.
The event was hosted by Eric Fanning, the Undersecretary of the Air Force, and Gen. Robin Rand, Air Education and Training Command commander. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was among the speakers at the ceremony.
Other elected officials, community leaders and distinguished visitors, including representatives from partner nation air forces, also attended.
The F-35, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is a fifth-generation fighter aircraft intended to be the Air Force’s premier strike aircraft through the first half of the 21st Century. It is a multirole fighter that is expected to eventually phase out the service’s aging F-16s and A-10s.
Video footage of the F-35 arrival can be downloaded at http://www.dvidshub.net/video/323179/luke-air-force-base-first-f-35.