Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kingsley Field could grow: 14 new fighter jets, 120 active duty personnel could be added to local air base

Kingsley Field could welcome 14 additional fighter jets and 120 active duty personnel to Klamath Falls over the next few years, adding a lift to the area economy. 

    “It’s awaiting signature, maybe in the next 30 days,” said Lt. Col. Martin Balakas, a spokesman for the Oregon Air National Guard base. “Basically we’d have to start implementing now for folks starting to show up in October 2013.”

    The proposal currently before the Air Force would provide Kingsley — with its current fleet of 25 F-15 Eagles, the nation’s only F-15C/D flight school — with the resources to meet new military demand for F-15-trained pilots.

    One of the largest employers in the Klamath area, Kingsley’s fate has been unclear since 2005, when the Air Force commissioned the first of 381 F-22 Raptors scheduled to replace the 1970s-era F-15.

    In 2011, the Air Force proposed an F-15 retirement date of 2025, throwing Kingsley’s long-term viability into question. And Pentagon defense budget cuts announced in January — $487 billion in all 50 states over the next decade — will include some base closures, according to NBC News.

    But with reduced commissions and safety concerns for the F-22, combined with other aircraft delays, Kingsley’s 173rd Fighter Wing and its heritage fighters could now stay operational for decades.

    “Due to a decrease in the number of F-22s and the entry date of the F-35 pushed to the right a bit, that end-of-service number will be well beyond the original 2025,” Balakas said.

More pilots

    The F-15’s service extension, together with the continued ramp-up for the F-22 and F-35, means the Air Force needs a larger pool of pilots trained to fly a range of aircraft.

    According to Balakas, several other air units had petitioned for the pilot-training mission — part of a  resource-sharing agreement between Air Force and Air National Guard called Total Force Integration — but Kingsley’s reputation won out.

    “We’ve had a longer history of training awesome pilots here, and we’ll be in that business for a long time,” Balakas said.

Read more here:   http://www.heraldandnews.com

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