Fighter Jets

Truax Field in Madison is a superb site for the F-35A Lightning II, the military's most advanced fighter jet.


WINDSOR — Madison is a finalist for the newest and, some say, best multi-role fighter aircraft ever built: the F-35A Lightning II.

An initial decision on where to base the F-35A is expected soon.

The Air National Guard’s Truax Field in Madison should be selected for many reasons.

Truax Field has a long history of success with military aircraft. It was created 75 years ago during World War II as a major training base and has hosted many types of fighters, from the P-51 Mustang to the current F-16 Fighting Falcon.

The F-35 Lightning II is named after the P-38 Lightning, the World War II aircraft flown by the all-time American Ace-of-Aces, Maj. Richard Bong, a Wisconsin native. It will replace the 115th’s venerable yet aging F-16s. The F-35 will bring major technical advances over the F-16 and is already in operation with the Air Force and the Marine Corps. Navy carrier deployment is expected next year.

Truax Field already has substantial existing facilities to house and operate the new fighter. The air base generates major economic impact that will continue to exist and grow with the F-35 placement. The 115th Fighter Wing consists of about 1,200 personnel and, according to reports, the base and its employees together contribute roughly $100 million in annual economic impact locally.

Moreover, the 115th serves many functions. It protects Midwest airspace from security threats and is ready to deploy worldwide to confront terrorist and other threats. It also helps during disasters and supports local bomb squads. Indeed, several of its personnel were recently deployed to Puerto Rico to assist with hurricane recovery efforts. In addition, it provides fire and emergency medical services to the Dane County Regional Airport.

Landing the F-35 Lightning II would maintain Truax Field as a substantial employer and generator of local economic wealth. It would secure the future of the base for a long time to come.

Jet fighters departing Truax Field are only a few minutes away from the Volk Field’s Combat Readiness Training Center and its state-of-the-art air combat maneuvering facility. This means the military would save fuel and time for transit if it bases the F-35 here, gaining more time for air-to-air and air-to-ground training. Similarly, the 128th Air Refueling Wing is located in Milwaukee for quick access for refueling.

Some local residents may be concerned about noise. The F-35 has a very powerful engine. But the Air Force asserts the new fighter is actually quieter the F-16 on takeoff, when no afterburner is used. A sound study will be completed to assess Truax’s geography and setting. It may or may not conclude that the F-35 is generally louder than Truax’s F-16s.

Even if the F-35 is louder, several factors will mitigate this. The duration and frequency of noise are what matter. And the only activities expected in and over Madison will be takeoffs and landings. They will be short and nothing close to the average 95 departures and arrivals of commercial aircraft every day.

Moreover, the Air Guard is expected to mitigate noise by limiting the use of afterburners on takeoff.

Some critics say the money for these fighter jets could be better spent on housing and education. While it’s true the F-35 is very expensive and has had some large cost overruns, the money has already been budgeted. F-35s are being produced and deployed. So the decision has already been made. If Madison doesn’t derive benefit from Congress’ decision, some other community will.

Truax Field offers compelling reasons for selection as one of the bases to host one of the most advanced aircraft in the world. Let there be Lightning.

Bach is a retired U.S. Naval Reserve captain who lives in Windsor north of the Dane County Regional Airport along the flight path of the north-south runway.