It looks like the military’s newest fighter jet is coming to Wisconsin.
On Thursday, the U.S. Air Force announced the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing, based at Madison’s Truax Field next to Dane County Regional Airport, is one of two preferred candidates to get the Air Force F-35A Lightning II.
Last year, the Air Force announced Truax was among five finalists for the two bases selected to get the new F-35. The other base named Thursday as a preferred candidate is in Montgomery, Ala.
Wisconsin officials touted Truax Field as a good choice for the new F-35s because it’s close to the Volk Field airspace in central Wisconsin, which means it has a short transit time to an F-35 training location. Plus the 128th Air Refueling Wing stationed in Milwaukee provides air-to-air refueling, which can double the time fighter jet crews can spend on tactical training.
“The United States Air Force has placed their trust in us to be one of the leading Air National Guard units to transition to the F-35,” said Col. Erik Peterson, commander of the 115th Fighter Wing. “Any time you get the newest piece of equipment it’s exciting.”
The 115th Fighter Wing now flies 18 of the Air Force’s oldest F-16 jets, aircraft built in the mid-1980s that are nearing the end of their careers. The military is transitioning to the F-35, a jet capable of traveling 1.6 times the speed of sound; a few hundred F-35s are currently flying at several bases.
The next generation fighter jet is a combination stealth plane and a flying computer with an array of sensors, radar and six cameras that will allow pilots to see much more.
The next step is for an environmental impact analysis and site assessment at Truax Field. The new jets would be delivered in 2022. Peterson said the number of jets flown by the 115th Fighter Wing is expected to stay the same — 18 operational planes and two backup planes.
At a news conference at the 115th Fighter Wing Thursday afternoon, Gov. Scott Walker said $20 million in U.S. Air Force construction funds will be invested in Truax Field to prepare for the F-35s. The governor noted that 1,200 airmen are employed with the fighter wing, including 445 full time.
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