Friday, January 29, 2016

F-35s to train in Tucson, Arizona, in March

In March, Tucson residents will finally be able to glimpse — and hear — the U.S. military’s newest fighter jet over the Old Pueblo.

Two F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters will fly at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for a few days in early March during the Heritage Flight, which trains and certifies pilots to fly alongside vintage airplanes, D-M says.

The event is not open to the general public, and most maneuvers are performed over D-M’s airfield, but at times local residents will be able to see and hear the planes coming and going.

Not including a brief, unscheduled flyover by two F-35s about a year ago, the Heritage Flight will mark the first official visit to Tucson by the F-35, which besides its high cost and development problems has sparked criticism because it is much louder than jets currently based at D-M.

Some details, like the exact number of certain participating planes, have to be finalized, but the Heritage Flight event will likely include 15 to 17 planes, new and old, D-M spokesman Capt. Casey Osborne said.

The weekend following the Heritage Flight, March 12-13, D-M will host its Thunder and Lightning Over Arizona open house and air show, which is open to the public. An F-35 will be on ground display at that event.

Besides the F-35, participating aircraft so far include two F-22 Raptors, a twin-engine stealth fighter that participated last year; two F-16 Fighting Falcons; and vintage planes including a P-40 Warhawk, four or five P-51 Mustangs, two or three F-86 Sabres, a P-47 Thunderbolt and a P-38 Lightning.

D-M officials discussed the Heritage Flight and the F-35’s participation last week at a meeting of the Military Community Relations Committee, ahead of a formal Heritage Flight announcement on Monday.

The base is trying to get the word out so residents know what to expect, D-M’s Osborne said. D-M routinely issues news releases informing residents of visiting units.

Two transient F-35s briefly practiced approaches over D-M in February 2015, and the unscheduled event prompted some noise complaints from residents.

The F-35 has been a focal point for some area residents who have complained that some jets are too loud for urban-area use.

Air Force data show that the F-35 at takeoff is about nine decibels louder than the most powerful version of the F-16, which routinely is flown at D-M and is the main aircraft flown by the Arizona Air National Guard 162nd Wing at Tucson International Airport. A 10-decibel increase roughly represents a doubling of perceived sound levels.

Several local residents recently filed a federal lawsuit against the Air Force, alleging that the service failed to follow environmental laws in determining that a major expansion of a training program known as Total Force Training would have no significant impact on surrounding areas. That plan would bring more, and some louder, visiting jets to D-M, though the F-35 wasn’t included since it technically is not yet operational.

Some F-35 critics, as well as some supporters, have suggested that the Air Force fly F-35s over Tucson so residents can hear the noise level for themselves. Sen. John McCain said during a discussion of F-35 basing in 2009 that such overflights over could be helpful.

No flyovers were performed, but Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix was made a major F-35 training base and about 30 F-35s were based there as of December, according a public fact sheet.

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