Inside the Gates: F-35s undergo Alaska cold-weather testing
Alaska is the latest testing ground for the Air Force's F-35 fighter jet.
Airmen recently flew some of the stealth jets to Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks to begin extensive testing of their capabilities in cold-weather environments.
"We showed up last week, and we will be here testing the F-35 to see how it performs," said Lt. Col. Tucker Hamilton with the 461st Flight Test Squadron.
An Eielson spokesperson said one part of the test includes certifying the plane's drag chute. Hamilton said the jet must demonstrate that the entire F-35 fleet is capable of landing on runways other planes wouldn't take a chance on.
"No one has done icy wing runway testing for any of the F-35s," Hamilton said.
Hamilton admits that the F-35 -- a "joint strike fighter" intended to be flown by multiple branches of the armed services, as well as foreign air forces -- has faced some challenges, including cost overruns criticized by President Trump. He also says that's fully expected, and why the plane is constantly tested.
"America and our world needs this airframe -- it is like nothing before it," Hamilton said. "Because there is gonna be 4,000 platforms and it's integrated with 14 partner nations and the services, we need this to work -- and I'm telling you right now it's working."
Eielson is scheduled to receive 54 of these jets, beginning in 2020. They will join Alaska's contingent of F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, which fly out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
Lt. Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, head of the Alaskan Command, looks forward to that day.
"When we have the full complement of the F-35 here in Alaska, as was mentioned, we'll have more than 100 fifth-generation aircraft here in Alaska," Wilsbach said.
In the event of a conflict Wilsbach said F-35s based at Eielson, along with JBER's F-22s, can rapidly reach any opposing nation in the northern hemisphere.
"We can take off from here and in eight or nine hours we can have both of these aircraft in a formation over their country," said Wilsbach.
Two fighter squadrons will be created at Eielson once the F-35 deployment arrives, bringing about 3,500 airmen to Fairbanks. F-35s cost $95 million each, and have a top speed of 1,200 mph.