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MCAS 'ready to go' for F-35 arrival
Construction at Marine Air Corps Station Yuma to prepare for the arrival of the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter continues to clip along at a fast pace.
“Yuma is ready to go,” said Col. Robert C. Kuckuk, commanding officer of MCAS Yuma.
He noted the first of five state-of-the-art hangars being built to house the five expected F-35 squadrons of 16 planes each and one operational test and evaluation squadron of eight aircraft, have been completed.
The first F-35 is expected to arrive by Nov. 25. “It is rolling down the assembly line,” Kuckuk said.
An additional F-35 is expected to arrive each month after the initial fighter arrives until a full squadron is stationed at the base. The total transition from old aircraft to new aircraft and personnel for the F-35 squadrons is scheduled for 2020.
The first F-35 squadron, Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121, is already moving into the newly completed hangar.
The Marines “are moving their gear … into the new offices and the workspaces and getting set up to do operations here for the arrival of the aircraft,” Kuckuk said.
A simulator building has also been completed, with the first two of eight F-35 flight simulators currently being installed. In addition, a new utility communications facility and a new maintenance facility are being erected. A second hangar is expected to be completed by fall.
To train F-35 pilots how to land on the deck of amphibious assault ships at sea, an auxiliary landing field will be built on the Barry M. Goldwater Range.
On Wednesday morning, U.S. Sen. John McCain and Congressman Jeff Flake toured the new facilities and were briefed about the progress of the project.
“Of course, I am always inspired to be around the Marines who do such a wonderful job protecting our nation,” McCain said.
Accompanying the politicians was Brig. Gen. Steven Busby, commanding general of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, which encompasses MCAS Yuma.
About $400 million has been invested in the construction of infrastructure at MCAS Yuma so far, which will pay off for Yuma's economy in the long run by making the air station ready to serve the defense needs of the country for many decades to come, Kuckuk stated.
“The building that we are doing now ... I think will sort of cement Air Station Yuma's place in aviation for the next 50 years. That is a pretty bold statement … but we have put a lot of money into Yuma in order to make it the first place to fly this airplane in operational mode.”
The infrastructure will “bring activity to the field,” he added. “It is going to bring deploying units to the field. It is going to bring the latest in tactical aviation to the field.”
Since MCAS Yuma will be the home of the first fully operational F-35 squadrons, many units from all branches of the military that will transition to the new aircraft are expected to spend time training here.
However, the overall amount of personnel stationed at the base is not expected to dramatically increase.
“We are not looking at a huge addition to the base,” Kuckuk said. “We are going to be swapping one airplane for another. In the end there won't be any additional squadrons in Yuma.”
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.