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162nd Fighter Wing announced as candidate base for F-35

An F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft banks over the flightline at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., April 23, sending contrails streaming off the wings.  The aircraft is the first F-35 to visit the base which will be the future home of the JSF training facility.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

An F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft banks over the flightline at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., April 23, sending contrails streaming off the wings. The aircraft is the first F-35 to visit the base which will be the future home of the JSF training facility. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Air Force officials announced that the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport is one of the top five locations under consideration for F-35 Joint Strike Fighter training.

"We are honored to be included on the initial list of bases being considered for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter," said Col. Greg Stroud, 162nd Fighter Wing commander. "We have access to great airspace through the Barry M. Goldwater Range, we have perfect flying weather year round and we have a long tradition of fighter training. Should the F-35 come to Tucson it would be a logical addition to our current F-16 training mission."

Luke Air Force Base, another Arizona F-16 training base, is also on the list of potential F-35 training bases.

Army Maj. Gen. Hugo Salazar, Arizona's Adjutant General, notified wing leadership of the selection Oct. 29, and Arizona Senator John McCain made a formal public announcement.

"I am pleased with the selection by the Department of the Air Force to consider Luke Air Force Base and the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson IAP as top contenders for the future home of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter," said Senator McCain. "I will continue work to bring the F-35 to Luke and Tucson IAP by engaging with the Air Force to ensure the final base selection process is fair, transparent, and takes into consideration the strong history of support by local communities in Arizona."

The initial selection is only the beginning of a long process that will lead to final decisions about where the F-35 will be based. Along with all of the candidates on the initial list, the 162nd will undergo an environmental impact study in close coordination with the local community to determine the wing's suitability for the F-35.

The formal environmental analysis will include several site surveys and public meetings. Senior Air Force officials will then evaluate that and other data before announcing their preferred locations in late spring of 2010 and a record of decision by early 2011.

The Air Force considered 205 bases in the initial selection round based on several factors including: airspace, flight training ranges, weather, support facilities, runways, taxi ramps, environmental concerns and cost. Military efficiencies, aircraft maintenance, logistics support and partnership building were also measured.

Other candidate bases for training include: Boise Air Terminal Air Guard Station, Idaho; Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; and Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.
Six bases were selected as candidates for F-35 operations. They are: Burlington International Airport Guard Station, Vt.; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Jacksonville International Airport Air Guard Station, Fla.; Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho; Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.; and McEntire Air Guard Base, S.C.

Initial deployment of the F-35 begins in 2013, with 250 to 300 aircraft projected for delivery by 2017. Sites not selected in the initial deployment will continue to be evaluated as potential homes for the 1,763 total aircraft slated for purchase by 2035.

The Arizona Air National Guard has flown fighters from its base in Tucson since 1956 when the unit flew the Korean War era F-86A. Through six decades and seven different fighter aircraft the unit has served in air sovereignty and fighter training missions.

The last time a new aircraft came to the wing was in 1985 when the unit accepted its first F-16 Fighting Falcon.