Escorted by two F-16 fighting Falcons, Luke Air Force Base’s first F-35 Lightning II arrived at the Arizona base a little after 11 a.m. March 10, from the Lockheed Martin factory in Fort Worth, Texas.
“This is a day that has been a long time coming,” Col. John Hanna, the 56th Operations Group commander, said 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 aircraft is the first of 144 that will eventually be assigned to Luke AFB. Approximately 16 U.S. F-35s 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 (AFB) 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 is planning a formal unveiling ceremony for the jet March 14.
The event will be hosted by Undersecretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning, and Gen. Robin Rand, the commander of Air Education and Training Command. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is expected to be among the speakers at the ceremony.
Other elected officials, community leaders and distinguished visitors, including representatives from partner nation air forces, are also expected to attend.
The F-35 will be available for the public to view during the base’s air show and open house March 15-16.
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-10 Thunderbolt IIs.