Wis. National Guard awards contract for first F-35 flight simulator facility at Truax Field
By SHANZEH AHMAD | The Wisconsin State Journal | Published: April 17, 2021
(Tribune News Service) — The Wisconsin Air National Guard's 115th Fighter Wing has awarded the first of many building contracts to a local construction company in anticipation of basing a squadron of F-35 fighter jets at Truax Field in Madison.
J.H. Findorff & Son was awarded the contract for the $9 million project scheduled to begin in May and last roughly 18 months, Senior Airman Cameron Lewis said Friday. The project includes the demolition of a 4,646-square-foot space and the construction of a 19,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art F-35 flight simulator facility.
"Being able to fly in a virtual environment is a huge step towards the success of the F-35," Col. Bart Van Roo, commander of the 115th Fighter Wing, said.
Lt. Col. Charles Merkel, vice commander of the 115th Fighter Wing, said the simulator facility is going to be a "critical component of the F-35 mission." He said simulators will be used for initial pilot training and continuation training.
Simulators give pilots the chance to train in various scenarios and in some cases can replace actual flight time, Lewis said. The training provided by the simulators could ultimately decrease the number of actual takeoffs and landings at the Madison base.
Lewis said 11 new employees will work in the facility in highly technical positions requiring months of training.
The contract is the first of 19 military construction contracts, which will provide more opportunities for local companies and subcontractors. The 115th Fighter Wing expects to award close to $100 million in construction projects.
J.H. Findorff & Son has finished a number of other projects at the local military base in recent years, including the renovation of the squadron operations facility in 2020 and the construction of a communications facility in 2009.
"Findorff is an apt partner in this project given its long roots in Madison, dating back to 1890 when it helped construct the now iconic Red Gym, which was originally a military training facility," Lewis said. "The simulator facility will be the keystone project for the 115th Fighter Wing's F-35 training mission."
Last year, the Air Force selected the 115th Fighter Wing as one of two units to get the next batch of F-35s, which will replace the current fleet of 33-year-old F-16s. The first planes are scheduled to arrive in 2023.
Opponents say the F-35s will bring noise and other pollution that will disproportionately affect minority and low-income residents of neighborhoods near the airport.
A group opposed to basing F-35 fighter jets in Madison has filed a second lawsuit challenging the military's environmental review.
The nonprofit group Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin has filed two lawsuits, one claiming the Air Force and National Guard Bureau failed to follow the law when it considered the impacts of its basing decision, and the other that the military disregarded the potential impact construction projects in preparation for the F-35s will have on harmful chemicals known as PFAS, which have been found in soil and groundwater under the base and are believed to be connected to contamination of Starkweather Creek, Lake Monona and at least one Madison municipal well.
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