Navy delays OLF study

Published 10:32 am Saturday, August 29, 2009

NORFOLK—The U.S. Navy announced Friday that the release of an environmental impact statement over the proposed Outlying Landing Field would be postponed, possibly until the spring, as the Navy decides where to station its new fighter plane, the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter.

“If the decision is made to include Naval Air Station Oceana as an alternative home base for the JSF, then we would include that data in the OLF draft,” Ted Brown, media relations officer for the Navy’s Fleet Public Affairs Office, said Friday. “This is a new aircraft that we have not yet analyzed.”

Brown added, “there has been a lot of work done already, and that work is still valuable and valid. This would be in addition to what we have done already.”

In a written statement, the Navy said “various delays have pushed the OLF timeline to the point that it will now coincide with the commencement of the EIS process for homebasing of the (JSF). Including JSF data in the OLF EIS will ensure the Navy incorporates all relevant factors in the analysis in a fiscally responsible manner.”

Southampton County Administrator Michael Johnson said Friday’s announcement was good news for opponents of the OLF.

“It sounds like the Navy is willing to regroup and look at some of the issues that have been raised out here for a long time, about the scope of the EIS,” Johnson said. “We’re certainly encouraged that they’re going to step back and take a fresh look at some of the issues and concerns that have been raised.”

Tony Clark, chairman of the group Virginians Against the Outlying Landing Field, was thrilled by the news.

“This is undoubtedly a major victory for us,” Clark said. “It supports the assertion that we’ve made all along: that the future of Oceana was suspect. It calls into question whether Oceana is going to be the master jet base in the future. And if not, should we be building an OLF to support a jet base that’s not the future of aviation?”

The Navy says it needs to construct an OLF because the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress in Chesapeake, another OLF that currently supports Oceana, has issues with capacity shortage and encroachment from development.

“I’m not surprised the delay came,” Clark said. “The pleasant surprise is that the Navy is acknowledging the delay is due to a study of the F-35 and its future homebasing.”

Clark added, “It just shows that a group of concerned citizens can get together and raise legitimate concerns, raise legitimate objections, and be heard. I think it’s a huge victory.”

The F-35 is a single-engine jet fighter that was created by the Aeronautics Division of the Lockheed Martin Corp. The company’s headquarters is in Bethesda, Md., while the aeronautical division is in Fort Worth, Texas.

According to Lockheed Martin, the company plans to manufacture three variants of the aircraft, whose official name is the F-35 Lightning II. The Navy’s variant of the fighter, called the F-35C, will be designed to make takeoffs and landings from an aircraft carrier. A second variant, the F-35A, will be built for the

U.S. Air Force and would perform conventional takeoffs and landings. The company will make a third version capable of making short takeoff and vertical landings, the F-35B, for the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.K. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

Lockheed Martin said the F-35’s first successful flight took place on Dec. 15, 2006. The company expects to begin delivering the plane to the armed services in 2010.

The OLF would be a practice field where Navy pilots could simulate landings on an aircraft carrier. It would support aircraft squadrons from Oceana and Naval Station Norfolk Chambers Field. The Navy would need to acquire the property interests for 30,000 acres for the facility, which would have an 8,000-foot runway.

The Navy has identified five sites, three in Virginia and two in North Carolina, for the proposed OLF. The three Virginia sites are Cabin Point, Dory and Mason. The Cabin Point site is near the confluence of Surry, Prince George and Sussex counties, while the Dory and Mason sites straddle both Sussex and Southampton counties.

In North Carolina, the Sandbanks site is mostly in Gates County, but part of Hertford County would also be affected. The Hale’s Lake site is composed of parts of Camden and Currituck counties.