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The U.S. Air Force's 56th Fighter Wing at Luke AFB, Arizona is set to formally unveil its first Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter on March 21, following delivery of the aircraft earlier in the week. Hosted by Undersecretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning, the ceremony comes ahead of this weekend’s public airshow at the base. The aircraft was flown in from Edwards AFB on Tuesday by test pilot Colonel Roderick Cregier.
Following delivery of the first aircraft, Luke AFB will begin preparation to train crew for the conventional takeoff and landing version of the Joint Strike Fighter. By the end of this year 16 F-35As are due to have been delivered, and training is scheduled to start in the second quarter of next year. By 2019 more than 100 F-35As should be at Luke, from a final allocation of 144, split among six squadrons. This month the first Luke-assigned pilot, Capt. Joshua Arki of the 61st Fighter Squadron, is scheduled to return from JSF conversion training.
Luke has been the principal location for U.S. Air Force tactical training since the 1950s, with F-84s, F-100s, F-4s, F-15s and F-16s assigned as the major types. F-16 training has been undertaken since 1982, and Luke became the primary F-16 training center in the early 1990s with the transfer of three squadrons from MacDill AFB, Florida. Located in the western suburbs of the greater Phoenix area, Luke enjoys excellent year-round weather and has quick access to sizeable ranges over sparsely populated areas of Arizona.
F-35 training for all three U.S. services is currently conducted by the F-35 Integrated Training Center of the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida, which parents the 58th FS “Mighty Gorillas” (Air Force, to be at full strength with 24 F-35As this spring), VMFAT-501 “Warlords” (Marine Corps, 20 F-35Bs) and VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” (Navy, to receive 15 F-35Cs). As well as assuming the training mantle for U.S. Air Force pilots, the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke will also parent training for overseas JSF operators. The first aircraft for Australia (AU-1) is scheduled to arrive at the Arizona base before year-end.
Next year the Air Force plans to begin F-35A deliveries to its first operational unit (388th Fighter Wing) at Hill AFB, Utah. The base will ultimately have 72 F-35As assigned to the 388th FW and Air Force Reserve 419th FW. Hill is also home to the Ogden Air Logistics Center, which is the primary maintenance depot for the F-35A. This unit received its first F-35A for pre-service modification work last year.