MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing officially broke ground on its first major F-35 project Aug. 11, 2021 at Truax Field.
The ceremony brought together military and civilian leadership to commemorate the future of the Madison-based unit as the selected beddown site of the F-35 Lightning II aircraft.
“This ceremony isn’t just about one project, but a celebration to reflect all the improvements and opportunities that the F-35 conversion will bring to the unit, the state and the nation,” said Col. Bart Van Roo, the 115th Fighter Wing commander.
Throughout the beddown process relationships have been strengthened with the Federal Aviation Administration, Dane County Regional Airport, as well as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, unit leaders said.
“These important stakeholders have ensured the health and welfare of our community and our environment are at the forefront of our beddown actions,” said Lt. Col. Mike Dunlap, the commander of the 115th Civil Engineer Squadron.
While the 115th Fighter Wing has a long history of successfully converting from one aircraft to another, this conversion is thought to be as significant, if not more significant, than moving from propeller driven aircraft to jets in the early 1950s, said Brig. Gen. David May, the deputy adjutant general for air, assigned to the Wisconsin National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters in Madison.
“Progressing from 4th to 5th generation aircraft is like moving from a flip phone to a smartphone,” said May.
With such major advances in technology and safety, the F-35 is a critical piece of the president’s national security strategy and will benefit the fighter wing’s mission to provide invaluable homeland defense to the Midwest region, he said.
“As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I’m proud to be able to say that this unit has sat alert 24/7/365 and still sits ready right now,” said Van Roo. “The F-35 will no doubt be a frontline deterrence and our reputation of excellence will once again be demanded.”
As a unit that’s comprised of citizen Airmen that come from this community, live in this community and stay for the long haul in this community, it’s no wonder that the fighter wing as a whole lives under the motto ‘Dedicated to Excellence, unit leadership said.
According to May, the men and women of the 115th Fighter Wing are more than just dedicated to excellence, they are the standard bearers for what excellence means in today’s military.
“We are proud to be the hometown Air Force of Wisconsin and thrive on being a part of the fabric that holds our communities together,” said May. “With this conversion to the F-35 we ensure that as we support the needs for the state and the United states Air Force to fly, fight and win; providing air power anytime, anywhere for generations to come.”
The flight simulator facility is the first of 19 military construction projects the 115th Fighter Wing expects to complete in preparation for the beddown of the F-35 Lightning II, and it marks the beginning of the base’s physical transition for the F-35.
Local building company, J.H. Findorff & Sons, was awarded the $9 million project this spring, and crews began demolition of a 4,600 square foot facility this summer in preparation for the new 19,000 square foot, state-of-the-art simulator facility.
The unit expects to award more than $100 million in construction projects at the base, providing additional opportunities to local construction companies and subcontractors.
Simulators allow pilots to train on 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, according to unit leadership. 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.