Into the Belly of the Beast

AA-1, the first F-35 test aircraft arrived last week at Eglin AFB, Fla., to give base officials and residents of the local community a chance to experience the aircraft up close and personal. Two days after touching down on April 21, AA-1 flew over the base and the local area during a sortie with two F-16 chase airplanes before it passed over the Eglin runway for some touch-and-go maneuvers. Afterwards, it was made available for viewing. It’s precisely the “up-close-and-personal” part associated with the F-35 that has some local residents at odds with the Air Force after the service announced in February that an initial environmental assessment did not preclude basing F-35s at Eglin, the location stipulated under BRAC 2005 for the F-35 joint training schoolhouse. Concerns among some locals over the health and economic impact of the F-35’s noise level—it is admittedly louder than the F-15s that fly today from Eglin—subsequently drove the city of Valparaiso to sue the Air Force in federal court. But there are groups of residents equally enthusiastic about the F-35 mission coming to Eglin because of factors like the positive economic impact they see in the presence of the schoolhouse. (Includes Eglin report by Samuel King Jr.) (For some local reaction to the F-35’s visit, read the Destin Log’s April 23 report.)