Air Force to answer questions about F-35A at public hearings

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by Catherine Holland & Jared Dillingham

Bio | Email | Follow: @JaredDillingham

Video report by Jared Dillingham

Posted on February 13, 2012 at 7:21 AM

Updated Monday, Feb 13 at 9:58 PM

Map: Luke Air Force Base

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LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- The first of four public hearings on establishing a Pilot Training Center for the F-35A at Luke Air Force Base will take place Monday evening.

The U.S. Air Force has completed a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and is ready to present it to the public.

Luke AFB is the largest active-duty training base for the F-16 Fighting Falcon in the world. Nearly a year ago, plans were announced to consider replacing the F-16 with the F-35 Lightning II as the primary training aircraft at the base.

While Luke is the first choice of the Air Force, other potential locations for the F-35A Pilot Training Center include the Boise Air Terminal Airport Air Guard Station, also known as Gowen Field, Idaho; Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.; and Tucson International Airport Air Guard Station.

Some living near the flight path at Litchfield Road and Northern Avenue have voiced concerns over the noise the jets make.

Air Force studies report the F-35s are louder than the F-16s, but not enough for people to tell the difference.    They rank on the decibel scale near lawnmowers and motorcycles.

Hundreds of mostly West Valley residents turned out at a hearing at the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park Monday night, where Air Force representatives explained the new F-35 mission and took public testimony.

Most of the crowd voiced support for the new jets, citing the huge estimated economic impact the mission would have on the area.  

“I’ve lived under flight paths for 15 years,” said Gene Pender, “And they’re loud, but if you’re on the phone when one flies over, you wait a few seconds and it’s gone.”

 

A decision is not expected until early July.

The Pilot Training Center would include 72 F-35As, which will "replace or supplement the existing F-16 and A-10 [Warthog]aircraft and complement the F-22 aircraft."

According to a news release from the Air Force, "[t]he F-35A is absolutely essential to the nation's security strategy. It is the newest and most advanced fifth-generation fighter and needed to deter and defeat 21st century threats."

The F-35 Lightening II is the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program, and it has been troubled by schedule delays and cost overruns. Ten years in, the total F-35 program cost has jumped from $233 billion to an estimated $385 billion, according to an Associated Press report last month. And, recent estimates say, the entire program could exceed $1 trillion over 50 years.

Each one of this week's four hearings includes an open-house information session, 5 p.m.-6 p.m., followed by a presentation and formal public comment session, 6 p.m.- 8 p.m. Representatives from the Air Force will be available during the open-house session to provide information and to answer questions related to the Draft EIS.

Below are the dates and locations of the four public hearings.

Monday, Feb. 13
The Wigwam, Wigwam Ballroom
300 E. Wigwam Blvd., Litchfield Park

Tuesday, Feb. 14
El Mirage Elementary School Gym
13500 N. El Mirage Road, El Mirage

Wednesday, Feb. 15
Auditorium at Sundial Recreation Center
14801 N. 103rd Ave., Sun City

Thursday, Feb. 16
Gila Bend Unified School District Cafeteria
308 N. Martin Ave., Gila Bend

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