F-35 and Luke AFB:
A Partnership for the Future


A CQ Weekly interview with F-35 and Fighter Country Partnership experts Bob Dulaney and Charley Freericks

Bob Dulaney, a retired USAF General and senior manager of customer engagement for the F-35 program, and Charley Freericks, the immediate past Chairman of Fighter Country Partnership, shared their thoughts on the F-35, pilot and maintenance training at Luke AFB and the support of Fighter Country Partnership in the Oct. 28 issue of CQ Weekly.

What is the importance of Luke AFB to the F-35 Program?

BD: Luke Air Force Base is the premier fighter training base in the United States for the U.S. Air Force. I spent more than 30 years in the Air Force — training in the F-16 and the F-4 at Luke. There, pilots learned to train in preparation for combat. The infrastructure at Luke Air Force Base is unmatched. The weather is perfect and the military support in the Phoenix community is second to none.

Currently all the F-35 pilot and maintenance training is being performed at Eglin AFB. When will it transition to Luke?

BD: The first Luke F-35 left the production floor in September. Not only is it the first Luke F-35, but it’s also our 100th F-35, so it’s a pretty significant aircraft. That aircraft will arrive at Luke early next year, which is when we’ll get all the infrastructure put in place and start to transition all of the training. The actual pilot training will begin in the second quarter of 2015.

Why did the Air Force choose Luke for the international F-35 pilot training?

BD: There has always been an international flavor at Luke. During my 33-year career, I went to Luke at least four times for additional or initial training in a fighter or a new model of a fighter. And each time I was there, the international participation was evident. Luke has the range complex, weather and surrounding community that our international partners want and need to be able to complete their training.

And Luke will receive 144 F-35s, six squadrons, over how many years then?

BD: It will be well into the next decade before Luke gets all 144 F-35s. By 2019, it will have more than 100 F-35s and the rest of the aircraft will continue to flow until Luke has its full complement of training squadrons. The F-35 international partners will also train at Luke with the arrival of the first Australian jet in 2014.

Can you tell me about the Fighter Country Partnership and its commitment to the F-35?

BD: From a man who has spent nearly his entire adult life in uniform, traveled all over the world and commanded many units, I’ve never seen a stronger relationship between a base and a community than the one we have between Luke and the local community. Here’s the difference in this community involvement — they’re not in it for themselves. They are truly committed to the men and women in uniform and their welfare. You see that in their efforts every day.

CF: Luke Air Force Base — which includes the Goldwater Range, Arizona air space, Auxiliary Fields, and Gila Bend — is a massive complex with significant infrastructure in place. The Luke complex has capacity for these aircraft and the training that will go on there, and will be upgraded and expanded to meet the specific requirements of the F-35. We’ve got an ongoing program there with the F-16s, including an international contingent. It’s a very cost-effective way to bring the F-35 schoolhouse into being without having to go to another facility that is nowhere near as well-equipped with the range and the rest of the complex. There’s also a culture at Luke and in the community around Luke that is all about training fighter pilots — they’ve been training pilots there since 1941. Luke really is Fighter Country. Over the decades, the base has become the base for fighter training because of all the facilities — the complex — and also the history. It’s bred a great culture at the base, which extends into the surrounding community where tens of thousands of retired Air Force and other military folks live.

We’re very proud of Fighter Country Partnership. It’s been around for more than 20 years and has recently experienced major rebirth around the campaign for the F-35. It’s a non-profit organization that is dedicated to supporting the men, women, and families of Luke, and the ongoing mission as well.

What would you say the significance of the F-35 Program is to the Luke community?

CF: It’s unmatched. Not long ago, we had two air force bases in Phoenix, and then about 20 years ago, the military closed Williams Air Force Base, which really sent a wakeup call to the community about how important an air force base and its economic engine is to your community. For more than 20 years, Fighter Country has focused on the dual mission of supporting the people at the base as well as the ongoing mission sustainability. The economic impact is vast — they estimate that Luke brings roughly $2 billion annually into the state and local economies and employs thousands of people. It is an important piece of our community and a major component of our economy.

Is there anything you’d like to add about the support of the F-35 in the Phoenix and surrounding Luke community?

CF: Fighter Country Partnership partnered with an organization called West Valley Partners to develop the pro-F-35 “Luke Forward” campaign. In that collaboration, there were 12 cities around the county representing the entire west valley of Phoenix, from the city of Phoenix west all the way out into western Maricopa County. It was a united effort with amazing participation. We were able to get support for the mission for Luke Air Force Base from virtually everybody in our state’s congressional delegation, both at the federal level and state level; nearly every city and town in the state wrote letters of endorsement; and more than 20 thousand people signed up to support the F-35 mission for Luke.

Dec. 9, 2013

  • Beginning in 2015, all pilot and maintenance training will be conducted at Luke AFB, the premier training base in the United States.
  • The first F-35 for Luke left the production floor in September and  will be delivered to the base in early 2014.
  • Fighter Country Partnership is the premier community support organization for Luke AFB. The group was instrumental in securing the F-35 mission for the base.