It’s Official, Lightning strikes Luke AFB as first F-35A arrives in style.
History was made on Monday, March 10, 2014 as the first of a proposed 144 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft arrived at Luke AFB.
The Arizona skies were clear as invited guests and select media representatives gathered to witness this historic event. Soon, in the distance, the silhouettes of three aircraft appeared, one was definitely different than the others. As the trio of aircraft approached the base it was apparent this was not a typical 3 ship F-16 arrival. The aircraft in between the familiar F-16s was the newest 5th generation aircraft in the US inventory.
Luke’s first F-35A is serial number LF5030; the 100th F-35A Lightning II to roll off the assembly line at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas plant. This Lightning II was flown by test pilot Colonel Roderick Cregier, who touched down at Luke to usher in a new era of flight training at this 72 year old Air Force Base.
Colonel John Hanna, commander of the 56th Operations Group was on hand to welcome the aircraft to its new home. “This day was a long time coming and is the result of years of hard work by countless people in the military and the local community” Hanna said as he spoke to the gathered guests in front of the gleaming new jet. Colonel Hanna went on to say “Having F-35s on the ramp at Luke ensures the long term viability of our mission and safeguards the base as a community partner and economic engine for the west valley”.
Officials at Luke expect their additional F-35s to arrive at the base over next few years, equipping six squadrons of 24 aircraft each for a total of 144 of the stealthy jets. The Air Education and Training Command base is to become the primary F-35 flight training facility for the United States and many other allied countries; it will become the largest joint forces F-35 base in the world.
If the staff at Luke seemed busy during Monday’s F-35 arrival, it was just a warm-up for a gala event that followed on Friday, March 14th.
Friday’s official F-35 Lightning II unveiling ceremony was hosted by the Undersecretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning and the Commander of Air Education and Training Command, General Robin Rand. Joining them on the stage in front of the new fighter were Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Congressman Trent Franks, the 56th Fighter Wing’s commander Brigadier General Michael Rothstein, and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics F-35 program Vice President and General Manager Lorraine Martin. Hundreds of local civic leaders and base personnel were in attendance too.
The dignitaries spoke about the partnership between Luke and the local community, and how the game-changing capabilities this 5th generation stealth fighter will provide the USAF and international partners a decisive edge over its adversaries.
Following the speeches, a catered lunch was served, and the event closed with an exclamation point. A historic flyby featured an F-35A Lightning II flown by Col. Todd Canterbury, Commander of Eglin Air Force Base’s 33rd Fighter Wing in tight formation with an original Lightning, a vintage World War II era Lockheed P-38J Lightning flown by Steve Hinton of the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California. This was in my opinion the highlight of the event as the two aircraft made several passes in the skies over Luke AFB. One could not help but be overcome with pride for the future of this base, and that of the free world.
Speaking of pride and service, this week’s F-35 event and all the logistics involved to make it happen took place as the base was preparing to host its 2014 Open House and Air Show, an event that unfortunately was cancelled last year due to budget concerns. So to say the Luke staff was busy is an understatement. Their professionalism is just one example of how the base was selected to become the Air Force’s primary F-35 pilot-training base.
Many thanks to the staff at Luke and in particular, Capt. Tristan Hinderliter/ Chief/ Public Affairs,Capt. Ryan DeCamp 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs and Lt. Candice N. Dillitte/ Chief, Media Relations.
Photos By Billy Elison (WildBill)
Photos By Joe Kates