From a remarkable tradition of excellence, Luke Air Force Base is forging the future of airpower.
From the very beginning, Luke Air Force Base (Luke AFB) has represented an iconic piece of American and Arizona history. And it is from this tradition of excellence that the future of airpower is being forged at Luke AFB – and celebrated at the Luke Days 2018 airshow!
A Brief History of Luke Air Force Base
The field was named for American hero and Arizona native 2nd Lt. Frank Luke Jr. Upon posthumously receiving the veneration, Luke was the first aviator to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his service during World War I.
Born in Phoenix in 1897 and nicknamed the “Arizona Balloon Buster,” Luke was an alum of Phoenix Union High School who went on to serve his country honorably, scoring 18 aerial victories over the skies of France before his untimely death at only 21 years of age. On September 29, 1918, Luke shot down three enemy balloons before surviving a crash, drawing two pistols on the approaching enemy and killing several before being gunned down himself.
When it came time for the U.S. Army to build a field in Arizona more than 20 years later, it was only fitting that it bear the name of one of our most legendary hometown heroes. An existing Luke Field in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii released the name so that the honor could go to the new field in the Phoenix area.
“No one had the sheer contemptuous courage that boy possessed. He was an excellent pilot and probably the best flying marksman on the Western Front. We had any number of expert pilots and there was no shortage of good shots, but the perfect combination, like the perfect specimen of anything in the world, was scarce. Frank Luke was the perfect combination.” – Maj. H.E. Hartney
As 2018 will mark 100 years since his death, the Luke Days 2018 airshow holds a special significance as we reflect on the base’s origins, the immense achievements there since the 1940s and all that it will accomplish in the coming decades.
“Home of the Fighter Pilot”
Soon after excavation on the land west of Phoenix (in Glendale) began in 1941, Luke Field quickly became the largest fighter training base in the Army Air Forces, graduating more than 12,000 fighter pilots and contributing heavily to US victory in World War II. During this time, students were trained to operate the AT-6, P-40, P-51 and P-38.
The early pilot-training program at Luke Field benefitted the Allies well before the United States formally entered WWII as the U.S. Army was training Chinese pilots. During this era, the Chinese pilots would complete their primary training at Thunderbird Field before moving on to advanced training at Luke Field. The May 4, 1942 issue of LIFE notes that language proved among the most difficult barriers for the Americans and Chinese in this endeavor, especially given the multiple dialects spoken by the Chinese. Using key phrases, interpreters and hand signals, they were effective in readying multiple classes of Chinese airmen to return to their country and contribute to the war effort.
As the Air Force has evolved, so too has Luke AFB. Throughout its history, the base has been on the cutting edge with students progressing to Korea and Vietnam-era fighters and beyond.
Currently, Luke Air Force Base is home to more F-35 squadrons than any other Air Force installation – fitting when you consider its legacy.
The Future of Airpower
The Luke Days 2018 airshow will give civilians an exceptional opportunity to witness the Future of Airpower.
While Luke AFB will always hold a prominent place in military history based on past achievements, its role in the future of airpower is not to be underestimated. Given the base’s reputation as the “Home of the Fighter Pilot,” it may not come as a surprise that Luke AFB is projected to be the primary training site for the F-35 program.
The F-35 will be a focal point over the next 40-50 years as the Department of Defense looks to remain at the forefront of military technology. These advanced aircraft outperform any other in existence and are a boon to the security of our nation and our allies as we begin to replace aging fighter, strike, and ground attack aircraft. The aircraft’s high level of maneuverability and instantaneous high-g performance is impressive, matching or exceeding even the most famed fourth-generation fighter jets. Add to it the highly advanced capacity for stealth (giving pilots first-look, first-strike opportunity), payload, range on internal fuel and more – it’s not hard to imagine why the combat readiness of the F-35 was so widely anticipated.
The Luke Days 2018 airshow affords the opportunity for the public to witness history and see firsthand the unprecedented level of performance of the F-35.