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F-35s to begin flying over Yuma soon

YUMA, Ariz. — This month, another F-35 is slated to join the three that have already been delivered to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, and the nation's newest generation of fighter jets could be flying in the airspace over Yuma as soon as next week.

“It's now a reality,” said Col. Robert Kuckuk, commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, who was the guest speaker at the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce annual banquet Friday evening.

The air station is slated to receive an additional F-35 each month until it has two squadrons of 16 planes each, he said. The program will move to the East Coast for a while, come back to Yuma and then distribution will begin to the British and other U.S. allies.

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In other good news for the station and the community, Kuckuk announced that he had just received confirmation that Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 22 (VMX-22) will be relocating to MCAS Yuma. He said the current plan is to move the squadron and all its assets to Yuma from MCAS New River, located in North Carolina, within the next 18 months.

It's an 800-person squadron, Kuckuk said. And its relocation will mean that all testing of Marine Corps aircraft will come to Yuma.

That MCAS Yuma was selected to receive the first F-35s in the Marine Corps is a tribute to the community, he said.

“You need to be congratulated,” he said, noting that the community played a major role in the F-35 coming to Yuma through its support for the air station. “I applaud you for the environment that allows us to fly here.”

The first F-35 arrived on Nov. 16, followed the next week by another plane and a ceremony during which the Marine Corps' first operational F-35 squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, was introduced.

The F-35, the nation's newest generation of tactical fixed-wing fighter jet, will have three variants for use by the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the Navy. The Marine Corps' variant, the F-35B, is the short-takeoff and vertical landing model.

With some evaluations completed, F-35 pilots could be flying the aircraft over Yuma within a week or so, Kuckuk said.

It's a further tribute to the community that the air station was ready to begin receiving the F-35 on schedule, he said.

Over the course of 10 months, construction workers converted what had been desert into two state-of-the-art hangars for the F-35.

“The commandant of the Marine Corps was calling and asking if Yuma would be ready,” Kuckuk said.

Not only was Yuma ready, the work was completed ahead of schedule and under budget, he said. “That's a nod to the city and the people here.”

The two hangars were part of a renaissance of the station that also included infrastructure improvements, a new flight simulator and a new substation by Arizona Public Service Co.

“Because we got it done, we have the F-35,” Kuckuk said.

There's more to come. A new auxiliary landing field is under construction in a remote location on the Barry M. Goldwater Range where pilots will be able to train to land on the flight decks of carriers. And contracts have been awarded for construction of two more F-35 hangars.

Kuckuk noted that the mission of MCAS Yuma is to “provide aviation ranges, support facilities and services that enable our tenants, other Marine Corps commands, visiting military and interagency forces to enhance their mission capability and combat readiness.”

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©2013 The Sun (Yuma, Ariz.)

Visit The Sun (Yuma, Ariz.) at www.yumasun.com

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