JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — The F-35 Lightning II fighter jet is touching down at three installations, and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center is paving the way.
Luke Air Force Base, Arizona; Nellis AFB, Nevada; and Hill AFB have started receiving the highly anticipated new aircraft.
“This fifth-generation aircraft brings a whole new level of incredible capabilities to our nation’s defenders,” said Ronald Stonebreaker, chief of the project execution branch at Hill. “The facilities to support the maintenance and operation of this new generation of aircraft must provide an efficient, capable platform to fly, fight and win.”
The first three combat-coded aircraft have arrived at Hill, with an additional one or two expected each month through 2019. Once fully converted from the F-16 platform, there will be 72 F-35As serving three fighter squadrons.
Working on a very compressed schedule, awarding and completing three years’ worth of construction in a little more than a year, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center was instrumental in meeting this accelerated beddown, Stonebreaker said.
“The subject matter experts at AFCEC contributed great expertise and knowledge,” Stonebreaker said. “AFCEC also provided the centralized management for our large military construction projects — ensuring these large projects were properly planned and completed on time for our mission.”
At Hill, crews faced the challenge of overlapping missions: renovating facilities and starting to receive F-35 airframes while keeping two existing F-16 flight squadrons fully operational. Two facilities — munitions storage igloos — were new construction; the rest were renovations to existing facilities.
“These hangars were initially built in the 1940s and 1950s,” said Jaime Cantu, AFCEC project manager. “Bringing them up to current safety codes took a real team effort. The entire team worked diligently to get everything operational on time.”
The majority of construction at Hill is complete, with a munitions maintenance complex and one more squadron aircraft maintenance unit to complete in the next two years.
Luke, with projects valued at over $200 million, is designated as the first worldwide pilot training center for the new fighter jets. This beddown is currently midway through construction. Luke will ultimately be home to six new fighter squadrons and 144 jets.
The combined aircraft maintenance unit and squadron operations facilities for squadron one and two and the aircrew training center with four flight simulators are already in use and functioning very well. The combined AMU/squadron operations facility for squadron three is expected to be completed later next month. Construction is complete on a field training detachment with fuselage trainer and classrooms and will be fully operational this spring. Groundbreaking for the new F-35 flight line fuel-stands and pump house begins this month.
The combined maintenance hangar, AMU and squadron operations facility for squadron four and the combined maintenance hangar for squadron three are both ready to advertise and will be awarded for construction this calendar year.
Also this calendar year, there will be four fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2017 F-35 beddown projects under design and request for proposal, or RFP, development. With the development of these RFPs there will be only two remaining Luke F-35 beddown projects for squadron six left to be designed and solicited for fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019.
Nellis, also a training base for the F-35 jets, is moving forward at a steady pace with several renovations completed and already in use, including a six-bay maintenance hangar/aircraft maintenance unit, a flight simulator and a flight test instrumentation facility.
Renovations for a parts store and fuel cell hangar are expected to reach completion in spring 2016, while a weapons school and four-bay maintenance hangar will begin construction in upcoming months.
At completion, Nellis will be home to 36 F-35 aircraft; eight of which have already been delivered, with an additional one or two expected each month.
The beddown effort will continue through 2020 with further construction projects at all three bases. Additional bases are undergoing environmental assessment as potential operating bases as well.