Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

August 19, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Luke AFB and the F-35


  • The U.S. Air Force has named Luke Air Force Base a preferred site for training pilots to fly the F-35. State Senator John Nelson and Charley Freericks of Fighter Country Partnership explain what it will take for Luke to land the F-35.
Guests:
  • John Nelson - Arizona State Senator
  • Charley Freericks - Fighter Country Partnership
Category: Military

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
The U.S. air force has named Luke Air Force Base a preferred training site for the F-35 joint strike fighter. What does that mean and what will it take for Luke to get the F-35? Here to answer those questions are two men who just last week visited Lockheed Martin in Texas to get a closer look at the F-35. Senator John Nelson, a Republican from Litchfield Park who serves as vice chair for the house military and veterans' affairs committee. And Charley Freericks, chairman of the board for fighter country partnership, a community support organization for Luke Air Force Base. Thank you for joining us on "Horizon."

John Nelson & Charley Freericks:
Our pleasure.

Ted Simons:
The F-35, give us nuts and bolts. What does it replace?

John Nelson:
We have an aging fleet of fighters out there. Everything from the F-18 and 16 and going back five or six different variations that it will replace. It is replacing. The F-35 is a single-platformed fighter. It has three variants. It's -- it gets tricky. You have your convention takeoff and landing aircraft which the air force gets the STOVAL, which is the -- Charley? Short takeoff vertical landing aircraft and the CV, which is the carrier variant, but the base is the same. They have three modifications to that and it's that process that they go through that keeps the cost down and makes it easy to manufacture and develop the -- I can get into a lot of detail, but basically that's it. It's a supersonic fighter, flies at 1.6 mach. They have the variations for the fighter and for the marines, the vertical takeoff and -- not landing. It's a short takeoff and vertical landing and then the -- the carrier variant has a wider wing but they collapse.

Ted Simons:
But the interchangeable part aspect means you can build -- what? -- one a day?

John Nelson:
That's the whole idea. They've combined the construction process through three different levels and it's like a production line and when they're done with the mile-long production line they'll turn out basically one F-35 a day.



Charley Freericks:
One of the beauties of the weapons system, is the addition to manufacturing efficiently, it's a big chore to maintain the fleet. So having all the maintainers trained in the basic national form and tools and parts standardized for three branches of the military is efficient.

Ted Simons:
It sounds like stealth is the major component of the aircraft. The antenna is not external and these things.

John Nelson:
The stealth is the major component but the engine and variations very, very critical. But if you look at it, the -- all of the variants have stealth built in. That's a basic framework.

John Nelson:
Luke Air Force Base, the preferred site, what does that mean?

Charley Freericks:
The air force is in the middle of a national study called an environmental impact study, that is required of all federal agencies and departments if they do something that might have an impact on the environment. So it's under the national environmental policy act. The EIS is the acronym. We try to avoid acronyms. And it's a lengthy process, almost two years long, that starts with potential locations, including Luke Air Force Base. Many others. For both operational and training. And then it goes through a process of public comment, which happened early this year in several locations around the country. That starts getting refined into a draft EIS and in the draft, they start to cite -- approve -- the preferred alternatives and in this case, the air force has designated Lucas the preferred alternative for the major training mission and it's -- it's not over. It's a lengthy process that now requires the publishing of a draft EIS, which will come out late in year, hoping in the next 30-60 days. And then there will be public comment periods like we went through earlier this year for scoping the EIS and then result ultimately in a notice -- or record of decision. And the time on that is probably June of 2011.


Ted Simons:
Getting close?

Charley Freericks:
Getting really close.

Ted Simons:
The idea that -- well, let's -- will the base have to change? Will there be construction needed? Will flight patterns change and neighborhood restrictions change out there? What does it mean for that area?

John Nelson:
As far as the base, I don't know of any changes they would have to make. The plane is 51 feet long and about 40 -- about 35 feet tip-to-tip on the wing so not much difference between that and the F-16. Just goes faster and further and does more things. From a -- an environmental standpoint, the major takeoff is to the southwest anyway, I'm not sure if there will be changes to the flight patterns required. The information we have because of the power of the engine and the ability of the plane to take off with a load, there should be no real noise differential. So there shouldn't be any changes in that aspect.

Ted Simons:
And that's -- I want to bring that up because I know in Florida and I believe in Virginia as well there are a couple of neighbors and groups and such not happy with the F-35 and filing suit. El Mirage, a city by the base has had problems with the noise as well. How much of a difference will the neighborhoods hear?

Charley Freericks:
The noise has been hotly contested public reply but no facts are available yet. This plane is very new. They're doing the testing now. The requirement for noise is in the environmental impact study. So they'll carefully look at each potential location and analyze the noise and patterns and in common person language which is what I would like to consider myself, the noise experts that I've heard speak publicly and the Lockheed Martin presentation we had, for all practical purposes your a person walking down the street won't notice a difference between this airport and the F-16 and several in production. Noise has been rumored and realistically, it's -- you know, if you're used to hearing fighter planes in your neighborhood, you'll probably recognize this as a fighter plane still flying in your neighborhood.

Ted Simons:
Is that how you see it as well?

John Nelson:
Yes.

Ted Simons:
Is El Mirage still on board or is there still concern?

John Nelson:
I think there's concern, the election coming up with an issue between the sides on that specific. But I think until we have the EIS done, until we hear a plane flying, a lot of comments, it should go back around to Valparaiso. If the planes are coming in, over El Mirage and I've been there, they're at low power, approaching the base and coming in, looking to go downwind into the runway and not going full power. Will we have full power takeoffs there at some point in time? Probably. Somebody's got to learn how to do this. This is a single-engine fighter that these pilots have never been in until they go through all of the training, which is literally in the buildings, the simulators and everything else before they get to fly. So to say no, you can't say no. Never, but we will have noisy takeoffs at times.

Charley Freericks:
One the things we didn't talk about was why was Luke picked as an preferred alternative? It's a multifaceted decision in that Luke itself has great facilities and runways and hangars and all of the things you need to house 8,000 employees and do the things you do when you're the leading training facility for a advanced system like that, but more importantly, it's got a great relationship with the air force controlled -- the -- the Barry Goldwater gunnery range and an auxiliary field that's helpful in Gila bend and another training component that's used extensively on the instrumentation training in auxiliary one, north and west of the base.

Ted Simons:
And it's a major factor in the economy.

John Nelson:
A $10 billion industry in the state. Luke contributes about $2 million to the valley.

Ted Simons:
Ok. So we're looking at sometime before next summer?

Charley Freericks:
Between now and June, we're anticipating the record of decision to come through and expect it to be Luke Air Force Base and we've got a lot of work to do. It's a complicated political process. And I like your last point. It's a two-point plus -- a two point plus impact and it's one of the biggest drivers in the state as a stand alone and as part of the $10 million military industry it's important.

John Nelson:
It's inflation proof, which is a good thing.

Ted Simons:
We'll stop it there. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

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