Take an in-depth look at next-generation fighter jets in the Navy

F-35s could be coming to Jacksonville with Florida Air National Guard

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Highly-advanced F-35s, the wave of the winged-future in combat aviation, could be coming to Jacksonville.

The Florida Air National Guard's 125th Fighter Wing is one of the five finalists for a squadron.

A decision could be made this month.

News4Jax videographer Jud Hulon and I were the only local news crew to get an in-depth look at the jet, examining the Navy’s model during a simulation at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

We were shown a simulator for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.

United States Navy pilot Graham Cleveland guided us through the program specific to the Navy’s F-35C.

Cleveland has about 300 hours in the F-35, and the fighter pilot has logged about a thousand hours in F/A-18s.

“We don’t want to make comparisons because we need both," Cleveland said. "We need both the F/A-18 and the F-35. They complement each other very well.”

Cleveland took me through the simulation, including the Navy-specific catapult from a carrier. For a novice, it was a little tricky.

Cleveland described the procedures.

”The first thing we’re going to do once we are all locked into the catapult, we’re going to full power," Cleveland said. "Not all the way to the top. Not all the way to the burner. So we call it military and maximum power. So military power would be at 100 percent. And maximum is when we plug in the afterburner. We don’t want to do that -- it’s really hot -- unless we absolutely have to.”

In the course of guiding me in the simulator, Cleveland explained the specific features of the F-35 and the advantages.

"So the F-35 provides a day one strike capability that we don’t currently have. And by that I mean, in a contested environment,” Cleveland said. “So contested being any of, any threat of a country that has a large amount of surface to air missiles along the coast. Anything that would prevent us from flying in airspace that we wouldn't typically be able to. It’s got electronic warfare capabilities that we don’t have on other platforms.”

We also spoke to Tom Halley, who's on the Lockheed Martin team.

”We will be joining the air wing for years and we are going got make it much more lethal, and much more survivable," said Halley, who spent 28 years in the Navy flying Hornets and Super Hornets. 

Halley said the F-35A costs $80 million, and the Navy’s edition will be more expensive -- about $97 million apiece.

Halley said it’s justified because the F-35 lasts longer -- by 25 percent.

“You get the extra 2,000 hours and the 5th generation capability, which is killing everything -- red flag exercises, top gun, at northern edge -- we can go against the highest fortune threats in the world," Halley said. "We are taking them out with over a 25-to-1 kill ratio, which is unheard of.”

Halley said since Lockheed Martin started the program, they've brought the cost of the aircraft down 60 percent.

Once the company is in full production on the F-35, he thinks the price will come down again.

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