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Duluth Air Show puts 148th’s focus on F-35’s in the spotlight

DULUTH, MN — A big focus on the air show this year will be the F-35 Fighter Jets.

The U.S Air Force brought two of the nearly $100 million aircraft to the show this year.

On Friday Lockheed Martin hosted an interactive flight with the F-35 to give elected officials an up-close look at the most technologically advanced fighter jet in the world.

“The survivability and the lethal-ness of the plane is going to help our men and women complete their mission and come back home,” said Rep. Pete Stauber, R – Minnesota

Currently, the Duluth Military Affairs Committee is lobbying Congress to bring the Jets to Duluth for use by the 148th Fighter Wing

“It’s a priority for us to make sure that the 148th Fighter Wing is given the opportunity to bring the F-35 right here to our base,” said Stauber.

Stauber got an up-close look at the F-35 during a 20-minute simulator flight.

“To have, what I consider to be the best guard unit in the country, the 148th Fighter Wing, to have the F-35 in conjunction with the active-duty Air Force, it makes all the sense in the world,” said Stauber, expressing his desire to have the fighter jets in Duluth.

The simulator is an exact replica of the F-35 cockpit, and flying is nearly the same as being in the air.

“This is so simple and yet so futuristic. Flying the plane is actually easier than the simulator,” said F-35 pilot Andrew Olson

One of the big reasons the 148th is is seeking to upgrade from the F-16 to the F-35 is because their main mission is suppression of enemy air defenses.

That’s the F-35’s specialty.

“That’s the bread and butter of the F-35. So, it is able to find threats pretty much instantaneously and communicate those threats to the entire battlespace,” said Olson.

Topping out at 1,200 hundred miles per hour, the F-35 stops and starts and turns on a dime.

“The jet is just so easy to fly. It basically flies itself. And that’s really important because the pilot can only be doing so many things at once. So, when my brainpower is totally focused on being lethal and survivable, that’s where it needs to be, not flying the airplane,” said Olson.

Stauber says convincing Washington these are needed in Duluth is a tall task.

“We’ve already started, and it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said Stauber.

Olson says if it happens, it’ll be a big upgrade from the F-16 the 148th currently uses.

“The F-16, as it is flying right now, just does not have the ability to get into some of the airspaces that we need it to get into right now. It just would not be survivable,” he said.

The technology advancements are a big reason for that.

“It has stealth and sensor fusion. What that means is I can see everybody, and nobody can see me. I’m just King Kong out there while I’m flying this airplane,” said Olson.

Stauber adds it’s not just about the 148th.

“It would add air superiority for our nation, and the world,” he said.

But the region as well.

According to Lockheed Martin, bringing the F-35 to Duluth would bring nearly 1,600 new jobs and have a total economic impact of more than $130-million. 

Reporter Anthony Matt

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