Air traffic controllers see sorties more than double when F-35s arrive in Oregon

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft from Luke Air Force Base, Arizona returned to the 173rd Fighter Wing to continue training and flying with the Oregon Air National Guard unit for two weeks in October. 

“There’s been a lot of air traffic here the past two weeks,” said Col. Lee Bouma, 173rd Fighter Wing commander.  “Generally, Kingsley Field flies approximately 20 sorties per day; with our guests in town, that number has been closer to 50 sorties per day.” 

This is the third time the 56th Fighter Wing has brought their aircraft to Southern Oregon for training with the Oregon ANG F-15 Eagles. The first visit occurred in October 2022 when the Luke unit brought 14 aircraft for training on Kingsley Field’s extensive range. The unit returned again in May of this year, where they tested a new concept called an airbridge; where air traffic controllers joined the Kingsley range complex with the Mountain Home Range complex, creating an unprecedented 19,512 square-mile range training space.

In addition to the interoperability training that both units receive when flying together, Bouma says there are huge benefits for the 173rd FW when looking toward the future. 

“Luke’s F-35s operating from Kingsley Field help familiarize our Airmen, across many specialties from security, to maintenance, to pilots, with the F-35,” said Bouma.  “It helps us make informed decisions on how best to set up our base to accept the first aircraft in 2026.”

In early May it was announced that the 173rd Fighter Wing was selected as the preferred location to host the next F-35A Lightning II training squadron

While the wing works toward the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement and the final Record of Decision, expected in early 2026, plans are already underway helping ensure a smooth transition from the F-15 Eagle training mission to the F-35A training mission.

Bouma says these training events with Luke AFB give the wing a better picture of what they will need when converting to an F-35 training unit. “Operating the aircraft from Kingsley helps identify the facilities and procedures we need to be able to permanently base the aircraft at Kingsley Field.”  

He also sees another benefit for the entire Klamath Falls community, saying it allows the community the opportunity to not only see, but hear the aircraft in their local environment.

Until the wing receives their own F-35s, the aircraft will continue to make a regular appearance in the skies of Klamath Falls as Luke AFB is scheduled to return regularly over the next two years. 

“The training and exposure to the F-35 system now is instrumental to our eventual conversion,” added Bouma.