Jacksonville among 5 finalists for F-35 jets

Jacksonville Air National Guard unit still in running for new aircraft

Associated Press

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II, bottom, flies next to an F-16 Fighting Falcon, after an unveiling celebration at Luke Air Force Base for the delivery of the first F-35A fighter jet in March 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The U.S. Air Force has selected Jacksonville as one of five finalists to house the military’s newest and most sophisticated fighter jet.

The Air Force announced Wednesday that it has selected Jacksonville’s Air National Guard unit from more than a dozen units the Air Force said it was considering in May. If ultimately chosen, the Jacksonville unit would begin to transition from the F-15 fighter jets that it is currently using to the new F-35A Joint Strike Fighter jets as early as 2022.

“This announcement highlights what we in Florida have always known -- that our Florida Air National Guard has the finest facilities, airspace and -- most importantly -- Airmen in the world,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Calhoun, the adjutant general of Florida. “We are honored that the Air Force recognizes that Jacksonville would be an excellent home for the F-35.”

The general explained that the F-35 would allow the Florida National Guard to continue to perform its mission and protect the skies of the southeastern United States for the next 50 years.

“Florida is truly the most military friendly state in the nation,” Calhoun said. “We have a long history in Jacksonville, and our community support there has always been unparalleled. We look forward to continuing our legacy of supporting the citizens of our state and the nation.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force earlier this year outlining why he thinks Florida is the best choice for the new aircraft.

“The military installations in Florida provide access to some of the best maritime training opportunities in the world,” Nelson wrote. “The professionals of Florida’s 125th and 482nd Fighter Wings are more than worthy of selection for transition to the F-35A Lighting II aircraft.”

In addition to the 125th Fighter Wing based in Jacksonville, the other four finalists the Air Force is considering are in Montgomery, Alabama; Boise, Idaho; Selfridge, Michigan; and Dane County, Wisconsin.

The Air Force said it will now evaluate each of the five finalists in person before ultimately selecting two units in the spring of 2017. 

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