The F-35 stealth fighter is nicknamed ‘Lightning,’ and it is certainly expected to provide a powerful surge in Westfield. The Pentagon announced in April that 18 F-35A fighters will be based at Westfield Barnes Regional Airport with the Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing, replacing the F-15s that have been flying over the city — and on missions around the world — since 2007.
Rick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council — but also a former mayor of this city for a dozen years and currently a city councilor — said the F-35s will become an obvious point of pride for the community and the region, but there is an economic-development component to this decision as well. Indeed, the move will stabilize and secure the long-term future of the 104th, which brings more than 1,000 jobs and millions of dollars in direct support to the local economy each year.
“The F-35s are obviously hugely important, not only to the operation of Westfield Barnes Regional Airport, but to the 104th, which is a significant employer in the region, and a significant business,” Sullivan explained. “Aside from being an absolute point of pride for the city and the region, it’s an important economic development as well.” Chris Willenborg, manager of the airport, agreed.