Eielson A Frontrunner to House F-35 Fighters

There’s good news for the Fairbanks business community today. The secretary of the Air Force called Alaska’s congressional delegation this morning to announce that Eielson Air Force Base is the only candidate selected to house two squadrons of F-35 fighter planes. The final decision won’t be until the fall of 2015, after a study of the environmental Impact, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she’s confident.

Listen now:

An F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter banks during a test flight at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where pilots will eventually train on the aircraft. Photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter/U.S. Air Force via NPR.

“Eielson clearly is the front-runner. There was no reasonable alternative which was identified, they moved straight to the preferred alternative, which I think is really quite compelling for Eielson,” Murkowski says.

The Air Force cited Eielson’s strategic position on the globe, the wide-open air space and training range, and the support of the local community. Sen. Mark Begich says he expects the 48 planes will bring several hundred jobs and, all told, some 2,000 people, including family members. Begich gave credit to the Tiger Team, the Fairbanks and Interior leaders who promote Eielson.

“They came out in droves. They had information, they had data. They went to every public hearing. They made sure the Department of Defense, the Pentagon heard from Alaskans first-hand why this base location in Alaska was the right decision, especially at Eielson.”

The F35A is a single-seat, single-engine fighter with stealth technology that can also carry heavy bombs.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.