MCAS Yuma to get new F-35 auxiliary landing field

Apr. 2nd, 2012
James Gilbert

In continued preparation for arrival of the new F-35B Joint Strike Fighters later this year, a new training facility that will help prepare pilots to land on the flight decks of carriers will be built at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. Known as a Field-Carrier Landing Practice training facility with Landing Helicopter Dock, it will consist of a paved airfield, flight control tower, air operation facility, fire and rescue shelter, aircraft fueling areas, aircraft maintenance shelter and vertical take-off and landing pads. “It will be the next project to be awarded,” said Capt. Jack “Norm” Cronan of Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) Operations. “We also have hangars going up and a simulator facility, which are JSF specific.” Last month the U.S. Navy issued a Sources Sought Notice via FedBizOpps, stating it was seeking potential contractors for the project. The notice was not a solicitation for work, nor was it a request for proposal. Essentially, by issuing the notice, what the U.S. Navy was doing is inviting interested contractors that have the experience to build the facility and meet the government’s criteria to submit statements documenting their capabilities. The new facility, which will simulate the deck of an amphibious assault ship ­­­­— the ships found in a Marine expeditionary unit — is to be built in a remote location on the Barry M. Goldwater Range. Currently pilots practice their carrier landings at a facility known as Auxiliary Airfield II. Even though the new training facility will primarily be used by F-35B Joint Strike Fighters and AV-8B Harriers, Cronan said it can also be used — day or night — by other Marine aircraft such as the F/A-18 Hornet and MV-22 Osprey, as well as Huey and Cobra helicopters. “We have designed in some elements that will allow other aircraft and helicopters to use it as well,” Cronan said. “We have the proper lighting systems that the helos (helicopters) need to utilize to land at the various spots along the deck.” Cronan explained that both facilities may be used concurrently for a short time, but the F-35 auxiliary landing field will eventually replace Auxiliary Airfield II altogether, handling all of the carrier landing training for MCAS Yuma, and possibly other air stations in the region as well. Before Marine pilots ever land on the deck of a real carrier, they must be certified to do so. Cronan said pilots will be able to practice their landings at the new facility in order to get that certification. The training is important, he said, because the mishap rate for sea-based landings are four times as likely compared with ones that are land-based. Having a facility such as this just doesn’t benefit the pilots, Cronan added. It also provides actual flight deck crews and support personnel the opportunity to train with the aircraft at the same time in a more realistic setting. A Firm Fixed-Price, Design-Bid-Build contract, the estimated cost of the training facility project is between $25 million to $100 million, with the contractor being given a year to build it. The Request for Proposal on the contract will be released on April 16, with its award date being June 28. “Construction will begin soon afterwards. I don’t know the exact date,” Cronan said, “however long it will take the contractor who is given the award to mobilize all of his assets and get them out there working at the site. The completion date is not going to change. The sooner he can get out there and start working on it, the more time he has got.” As the future home of the first F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in the country, MCAS Yuma will get five squadrons each with 16 aircraft, and one operational test and evaluation squadron of eight aircraft. The 88 aircraft, which will arrive in phases beginning in September, will replace Yuma’s four existing squadrons of 56 AV-8B Harriers. Six projects totaling more than a $150 million were awarded to contractors in June of 2010 as part of the first round of projects currently under way at the air station as it modernizes. While work is progressing on two new hangar projects, it’s not the only work being done. Other projects include a JSF simulator facility and upgrades to communications and utilities infrastructure. Cronan added that the contract to build a third F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was awarded within the past two weeks. In total, construction costs are expected to exceed $312 million through fiscal year 2012, which includes the Field-Carrier Landing Practice training facility, with more construction projects expected to be approved by Congress in the future through 2015. In total, close to $500 million could go to the air station for construction and renovation of airfield facilities and infrastructure to house, maintain and operate the Joint Strike Fighter squadrons.

James  Gilbert
Sun Staff Writer
Yuma Sun
Apr. 2nd, 2012