Gov. Pat McCrory vowed to continue the fight for North Carolina’s military bases, but after flying in a Lockheed Martin F-35 simulator on Thursday, he said that fight would not be from the air.
“I’m going to fight for Cherry Point and all our other bases,” McCrory said. “It might not be fighting from inside the cockpit of a plane, but I’ll be fighting.”
McCrory toured the Lockheed Martin Fighter Demonstration Center Thursday in Arlington, Va., where he got the chance to fly the simulator.
“Had I not crashed, I might have lost my lunch,” McCrory said during a one-on-one phone interview with the Havelock News. “It was a very realistic simulator where literally you could flip the plane and turn the plane around and it literally simulated the motion of the plane, and I feel it in the car afterwards. I’m recovering.”
McCrory said the simulator felt like the real jet.
“It was dynamic. It got my blood flowing,” he said. “I shot down two planes and I didn’t wreck until I intentionally went into the river.”
The simulator experience gave him added respect for America’s fighter pilots.
“These pilots are just first rate,” he said. “It just shows you in doing the simulator that this is something that you’ve got to have a great amount of technical skills, flying skills and frankly, almost athletic skills and hand-eye coordination. These are racecar drivers in the sky going at Mach speeds.”
McCrory’s visit to Lockheed Martin was part of a two-day tour in Washington where he said he emphasized the important role that the state plays in the nation’s defense, and that includes work on the F-35.
“We have eight companies in North Carolina that are making parts for the F-35 along with smaller companies in the supply chain,” McCrory said. “This is not just helping the Cherry Point area. It’s helping all of North Carolina because of all the different supply companies and also the parts that are being made within eight companies in North Carolina, so there’s benefit to the entire state in addition to the incredible amount of personnel it will take to support the squadrons and the upkeep and maintenance of that incredible fighter airplane.”
Critics of the F-35 program point to its ever increasing costs as well as some technical issues, but McCrory said he felt confident those issues were being addressed.
“I think they are going through a period of a lot of learning and training, and by the way the simulator is helping in that effort,” he said.
Cherry Point is expected to be the home base of six Marine Corps F-35 squadrons beginning in 2021-22, and the Fleet Readiness Center East maintenance and repair facility on the base is already doing modifications on the new jets, with more work expected as the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps transition to the aircraft.
He said Cherry Point’s future looked bright, despite planned military force reductions.
“We’re feeling pretty confident about the future of Cherry Point from all indications that we’re getting from the Pentagon,” he said. “We’re getting very, very positive feedback primarily because of the infrastructure that we have available in that area, and the support of the surrounding community of the base is very, very important. We aren’t taking anything for granted, but so far, the indications are very positive even during these tough times in and around the area of Cherry Point from the military personnel that we’ve been meeting for the past six months.”
However, he said the state needed to be in a position to have jobs available for those getting out of the military.
“We’ve got to be on top of this from here on out. With the reduction in forces due to the withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, this is a priority issue,” McCrory said. “I’m using the availability of military personnel that are returning home to North Carolina as a recruitment tool to grow existing businesses and recruit new businesses. Many of these military personnel have the technical and leadership skills that companies are looking for.”
Though uncertain of his exact schedule, McCrory said he is expecting to visit Havelock and Cherry Point soon, perhaps for the Cherry Point Air Show May 16 to 18. But, he said he’s not willing to test his newfound flying skills.
“Let me put it this way: I don’t think I’ll be asked to fly an airplane after the simulator experience,” McCrory joked. “They’re expensive and I’m a conservative who doesn’t want to waste any tax dollars on an accident.”