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An F-35 in flight during the recent Northern Thaw exercise at Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center, Wis. The 115th Fighter Wing announced today the selection of a contractor to construct a new F-35 simulator at Truax Field in Madison, Wis., the first of 19 military construction projects slated for the base as part of its conversion to the F-35. 115th Fighter Wing photo by Tech. Sgt. Mary Greenwood

MADISON, Wis. — The 115th Fighter Wing awarded the first of 19 military construction contracts to local building company, J.H. Findorff & Sons, in preparation for the F-35 Lightning II beddown at the Madison-based unit.

The estimated 18-month, $9 million dollar project is scheduled to begin in May, and will include the demolition of a 4,646 square foot facility and the building of a 19,000 square foot, state-of-the-art F-35 flight simulator facility to take its place.

The unit expects to award nearly $100 million in construction projects at the base, providing additional opportunities to local construction companies and subcontractors, and Findorff has completed a number of other projects at the base in recent years including the 2020 renovation of the squadron operations facility 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. The simulator facility will be the keystone project for the 115th Fighter Wing’s F-35 training mission.

“These full mission simulators are going to be a critical component of the F-35 mission,” said Lt. Col. Charles Merkel, the vice commander of the 115th Fighter Wing. “They will be used for both initial pilot training and continuation training for as long as the F-35 is assigned to the unit.”

Simulators allow pilots to train to various scenarios and in some cases can replace actual flight time. The simulator and the training it provides could ultimately decrease the number of actual aircraft takeoffs and landings required once the aircraft arrives in Madison, unit leadership said. Eventually they will be linked with other simulators and aircraft actually flying in what is known as a Live Virtual Construct, which simulates live training. More importantly for the city of Madison, the simulator building will employ locals throughout construction and long after.

“Findorff, its subcontractors and the 11 new employees that will work in the advanced facility all provide a great opportunity for people in the local area to become part of the Truax team,” said Lt. Col. Dan Statz, the deputy commander of the 115th Mission Support Group and member of the 115th Fighter Wing F-35 Unit Conversion Office.

The 11 new civilian employees that will work in the simulator facility are highly technical positions requiring months of training to support the simulators full mission activities, Statz said.

While the planning of the facility has taken years to complete, the 115th Fighter Wing is excited to break ground on its first big transition toward the F-35.

“Being able to fly in a virtual environment is a huge step towards the success of the F-35,” said Col. Bart Van Roo, the commander of the 115th Fighter Wing. “We’re thrilled that we can move forward on our first F-35 project with a company like Findorff who has a long history in the city of Madison.”