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Officials recommend Eglin as preferred alternative F-35 base

July 28, 2010 (by MSgt. Russell P. Petcoff) - Air Force officials announced July 28 its proposal for basing 59 F-35 Lightning IIs at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

An F-35 Lightning II aircraft flies over Eglin AFB on April 23rd, 2009. The aircraft is the first of its type to visit the base, which will be the future home of the Joint Strike Fighter training facility. [USAF photo by SrA. Julianne Showalter]

The draft supplemental environmental impact statement, which Air Force officials plan to release in September, includes the preferred alternative of basing the 59 F-35 aircraft at Eglin AFB. Flight operations will also be conducted at Duke and Choctaw Auxiliary fields.

"The Air Force has completed its initial analysis of a full range of alternatives and determined that basing 59 F-35s at Eglin main base is the preferred alternative," said Kathleen Ferguson, the Air Force deputy assistant secretary for installations.

"This is not a final basing decision; it is the alternative we believe will fulfil our mission responsibilities while considering economic, environmental and technical factors," Ms. Ferguson said. "The community will be invited to comment on the alternatives presented in the SEIS."

This decision, approved by Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, supports the recommendation of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission to establish the F-35 Initial Joint Training Center at the base located on the far western end of the Florida panhandle.

"A significant amount of analysis has taken place over the course of the last 18 months and will continue through the completion of the SEIS," Ms. Ferguson said. "Our goal has been to ensure that Eglin can support the BRAC-directed F-35 training mission to the greatest extent possible with a minimal amount of negative impact to existing missions, the environment and the surrounding communities," she added.

The decision to limit the number of F-35s to 59 was based on airspace limitations highlighted in the modelling efforts of the Gulf Region Airspace Strategic Initiative, Ms. Ferguson said. The GRASI modelling indicates Eglin-managed mission airspace couldn't accommodate aircraft above that number.

"However, once GRASI is completed and recommendations are implemented there is potential to increase airspace capacity in the future," Ms. Ferguson said.

Air Force officials will conduct half of the flight operations from Duke and Choctaw fields.

This will minimize the effect on other missions on Eglin Reservation while also taking advantage of the Initial Joint Training Site, Ms. Ferguson said.

"This alternative minimizes the impact on the Air Force Special Operations Command mission, 7th Special Forces Group and preserves the critical test and training missions," Ms. Ferguson said.

"Further, this alternative minimizes operations, to the maximum extent practicable, to reduce noise impacts on the surrounding communities," Ms. Ferguson said.

The record of decision is anticipated to be announced spring 2011 following the completion of the final SEIS, Ms. Ferguson said.

Courtesy of Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

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    Additional images:

    Team Eglin members get a close-up look at the Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft AA-1 as it sits on the ramp April 23rd, 2009. The 33rd FW will transition from an operational fighter unit into a joint training unit in October to educate and train the pilots. The first of new fighters are scheduled to arrive in March of 2010. [USAF photo by Samuel King Jr.]