Luke AFB – 11/19/2013
By Steven Valinski
Luke Air Force Base is located West of Phoenix, AZ. It is currently a major U.S. Air Force training base for the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and, in the near future, will be a major training base for the F-35A Lightning II. The first F-35A is scheduled to be delivered to Luke between January and March 2014 with the first aircraft being production number “100” off of the Lockheed Martin line. Luke is currently slated for 144 F-35A’s in total.
Luke Air Force Base is has several locations off-base that are great for aircraft observation/photography. These locations are dependent on runway use, lighting, etc… Base security and local law enforcement can be tolerant of aircraft observing provided that people are respectful that is Luke AFB a military installation, stay away from the fence, avoid aiming lenses/binoculars towards the base, avoid parking in “no parking areas”, avoid littering, and other “common sense” practices. In any case, one should always be prepared to be confronted by law enforcement/ base security and be respectful at all times. While one can argue on whether aircraft observation at military installations is a right or privilege, during these security-sensitive times in the U.S., I prefer to look at it as a privilege and act accordingly.
My day at Luke AFB was one of those “love-hate” days. While the volume of activity satisfied the military aircraft aficionado in me, with grey clouds rolling in-and-out all day, I had plenty of challenges with poor lighting. In scouting the weather forecast of “partly cloudy” I fantasized about white puffy clouds and a big blue sky. This was not the case. Some would say I am spoiled with the typical clear and sunny skies in Arizona, but poor lighting presents many photographic challenges.
Most of the action consisted of F-16 Fighting Falcons, or “Vipers”, as some prefer. There are 6 different full-time F-16 squadrons and 1 reserve squadron stationed at Luke, and most of the squadrons had some activity. The highlight of the day came in the form of visiting aircraft. The F-15 Strike Eagles from the 428th Fighter Squadron (“Buccaneers”) from Mountain Home AFB in Idaho are currently visiting Luke. They are one of two Republic of Singapore Air Force training squadrons that are currently at Luke AFB, with the other being the F-16 squadron: 425th FS (“Black Widows”) which are stationed at Luke. Both of these squadrons are part of the Peace Carvin partnership with the USAF. The 428th FS flies some of the most modern F-15 Strike Eagles with the Boeing F-15SG. Other than “state of the art” avionics, the “SG” models use higher thrust F110-GE-129 GE engines, as opposed to, the Pratt & Whitney F100’s that most Strike Eagles use.
Lighting challenges aside, I had a solid day at Luke AFB. I am planning another trip there next week when, hopefully, the lighting will be more supportive of the cause. I hope to catch more of the F-15SG’s in action along with the red-tailed “Peace Carvin” commemorative F-16.