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Navy’s West Coast air base is getting its first F-35C fighter jets

Patrick Andrew, Navy petty officer third class, wearing protective shoe coverings, inspects one of the new F35-C fighter jets being stationed at Lemoore Naval Air Station. Photographed April 14, 2015.
Patrick Andrew, Navy petty officer third class, wearing protective shoe coverings, inspects one of the new F35-C fighter jets being stationed at Lemoore Naval Air Station. Photographed April 14, 2015. Fresno Bee file photo

The first F-35C fighter jets to be based at Lemoore Naval Air Station, the Navy’s West Coast air base, will arrive next week, the Navy said.

Four are to arrive Wednesday morning.

To mark the event, an arrival ceremony will be held at which Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet naval air forces, will speak.

The jets will join the recently reactivated VFA-125 squadron, which will serve as the West Coast fleet replacement squadron for the F-35C, also known as the F-35C Lightning II. The squadron will train pilots and personnel.

When at full strength, the fleet replacement squadron is forecast to bring an estimated $36 million annual payroll to the region, said John Lehn, CEO of the Kings County Economic Development Corp.

“It’s economic activity,” he said. “It’s always helpful.”

The Navy has said it expects to have 10 F-35Cs at the base this year and 100 by 2025. The aircraft arriving next week will come from Eglin Air Force base in Florida.✔

The F-35C is a single-seat fighter aircraft designed to replace the F/A-18 Hornet. Aircraft carrier air wings will consist of the F-35C, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and other aircraft, including unmanned drones, the Navy said.

The F-35 joint strike fighter program is making a new generation of fighter jets for the military. The first F-35 test flight took place in December 2006 at the Lockheed Martin manufacturing plant in Fort Worth, Texas.

The F-35C variant is designed for aircraft carriers and has larger wings and more robust landing gear. The first carrier landing occurred in November 2014.

The program has been criticized for its high cost of $367 billion, or about $108 million per aircraft. President-elect Donald Trump voiced misgivings about its cost during the presidential campaign.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

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