F-35 Training at Luke AFB Gathers Pace with 34 Jets

Flightglobal // January 13, 2016

The multinational pilot training centre at Luke AFB in Arizona has grown exponentially since receiving its first Lockheed Martin F-35 in March 2014, and that pace won’t let up in 2016 as the 56th Fighter Wing zips past 3,000 Lightning II sorties.

In an interview today, wing commander Brig Gen Scott Pleus says Luke AFB now counts 34 pooled fifth-generation F-35As in American, Australian andNorwegianlivery. The wing also continues to produce 95% of the US air force’s F-16 pilots from the base in Phoenix and its two satellite squadrons at Holloman AFB in New Mexico.

As the world’s premier conventional F-35 training base, Luke is currently training pilots and instructors for the USA, Australia, Norway, Italy – and soon F-35 foreign military sales customers Japan and Israel. Other programme partners – the Netherlands, Turkey and possibly Denmark and Canada – will also join the pooling arrangement, where they share aircraft and instructors.

Luke will grow to six F-35 training squadrons, and will soon reactivate its third unit – the 63rd Fighter Squadron, which trained F-16C/D pilots until it disbanded in 2009.

As its former commander, Pleus is looking forward to the 63rd's return, and he expects one squadron to covert to F-35 each year after that. Eventually, Luke will house 144 jets and 12 full-mission simulators. Singapore and Taiwan also have F-16 training squadrons at the base.

Pleus flew the base’s first F-35 sortie on March 18, 2015, and by the end of the month, it had clocked 1,000 sorties. Luke recently surpassed 3,000 sorties.

Luke’s training programme will grow rapidly through 2024 as F-35 nations work towards initial operational capability. Lockheed is scaling up aircraft production at its main site in Fort Worth, Texas as well as in Italy and Japan, with a planned run of 2,322 A-models.

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