New F-35 fighter jet could bring jobs to Midlands - - Columbia, South Carolina

New F-35 fighter jet could bring jobs to Midlands

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

EASTOVER, SC (WIS) - The Air Force is still considering McEntire Joint National Guard Base as one of two Midlands locations for a state-of-the-art fighter jet.

The Palmetto State is already home to the F-16 fighter jet and has been part of the 169th Fighter Wing at what is now McEntire Joint National Guard Base for more than 20 years.

McEntire remains on the short list to host an even more impressive weapon: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

"The F-35 is the next generation of fighter." said Lt. Col. Keith Miller. "And so what it does, it combines stealth with internal carriage of most of its munitions and highly advanced and integrated avionics."

Last week, the Air Force identified eleven initial or potential sites for locations of F-35's. The list also includes Shaw Air Force Base.

"It's a huge deal, really," said Lt. Col. Miller. "Because over 150 installations in the Air Force, both in the active Air Force Guard and reserves were looked at and so, of those total only eleven were chosen as potential sites for either training or operations. So we made the cut as one of six potential sites."

Lt. Col. Miller says McEntire has a lot going for it. Parts of the flight line have already been upgraded. Being near the ocean would help in training activities. There's also strong community and political support for military operations here.

"It's huge," said Rep. Joe Wilson. "A lot of jobs. But it's jobs, also it's advanced technology which will protect the American people. Protect our allies."

For all the positive impact an F-35 program would have here at McEntire, it hasn't been so warmly welcomes elsewhere. The issue: noise.

But Lt. Col. Miller says McEntire has an advantage there too.

"If you look around, we're kind of in a rural area. We're not too close to the city and we've worked hard with our local community leaders to ensure we don't have any of what's called encroachment where civilian building ends up getting into areas where there would be noise concerns," said Lt. Col. Miller.

A study last year of F-35 activity at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida indicated the new aircraft could be twice as noisy as the G-15's being flown there.

A more recent report claimed the G-35 isn't significantly louder than the G-16's we're used to.

While there appears to be some debate over that issue, it might be muted here if the new planes lead to new jobs in and around Eastover or Sumter.

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