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Luke cuts ribbon on F-35 Academic Training Center

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Luther Mitchell Jr.
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Luke Air Force Base celebrated the opening of its F-35 Lightning II Academic Training Center Oct. 9.

The new facility will provide state-of-the-art training for fighter pilots and continue Luke's mission to train the world's best fighter pilots.

The audience of about 175 people included elected leadership from the community, representatives from groups who worked on the facility and Airmen from Luke who will use the ATC.

The event's speakers included Gen. Robin Rand, Air Education and Training Command commander; Col. Kimberly Colloton, 60th commander, Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles district; and Art Cameron, Lockheed Martin's F-35 site director at Luke AFB.

"F-35A training at Luke AFB ensures the long-term viability of our mission of training the world's greatest fighter pilots, which Luke AFB has done for seven decades," Rand said. "Luke is a part of the First Command and its greatest contribution is the trained Airmen we send to our combatant commanders executing the mission. I'm confident Team Luke will continue to superbly train and educate the best men and women this country has to offer, to deliver airpower and preserve our nation's security."

Rand joined Colloton, Cameron, Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, 56th Fighter Wing commander, and Sean Walsh; from the Walsh Group who oversaw primary contractor Archer Western on the facility; to cut the ribbon initialing the end of construction on the ATC.

Now that construction is complete, Luke and Lockheed Martin will begin outfitting the inside of the building with furniture, phones and computers. More advanced equipment like classified areas and simulators will be installed in coming weeks. The first class of students is scheduled to begin training in the ATC in early May 2015.

Valued at roughly $47 million dollars, the Academic Training Center is an architecturally and technological advanced facility.

"At more than 145,000 square feet, this facility was designed to house a dozen full mission simulators and classrooms to train U.S. pilots and pilots from around the world," Colloton said. "The ATC is not only state-of-the-art in terms of what it will offer for training pilots on the latest in Air Force assets, but the foresight that went into design and construction of this building is an example of the Defense Department's continued commitment to sustainability and our environment."

Pilots will train in full mission simulators that replicate all F-35 sensors and weapons employment and provide half of the initial qualification flights, according to Lockheed Martin.

Rand assured civic leaders the new facility would quickly see its return on investment.

"About a third of the flying time we were going to have to do out on the flightline, we will now be able to do in the simulators here," Rand said.

Those saved flight hours will in turn, save dollars by reducing the wear and tear on aircraft and using less jet fuel, among other cost reductions.

"In this building we will begin training the world's greatest F-35 fighter pilots, not only for the United States, but for some our most key partner nations around the world," Rand said.

Luke will serve as an F-35A training site for 10 foreign countries on three continents ranging from Canada to Turkey to South Korea. The base's 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit currently hosts an Australian representative while the country's pilots and aircraft are expected to arrive by early next year. Norway and Italy will join the next U.S. F-35 fighter squadron at Luke when it begins operations in the spring of 2015.

The Air Force announced just over two years ago that Luke would be the training site for the new F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation fighter jet. Luke is scheduled to receive 144 of the jets which are expected to fly side-by-side with some of the base's current crop of F-16s through at least the beginning of the next decade.