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Got questions on the new Joint Strike Fighter jet? Click here to get them answered

The Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II .
The Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II .

The sight of it is daunting.

The Navy's preliminary draft of a report detailing ways 13 squadrons of new Joint Strike Fighter jet squadrons might be distributed between Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point is nearly two inches thick and more than 500 pages long.

The report examines the effect of one "preferred" and three other options would have on noise, safety, airfield operations, traffic and the economy near the two bases. The report recommends MCAS Beaufort receive two pilot training squadrons and three active-duty squadrons.

What follows is an examination of key questions raised and answered by the report.

If no F-35s are stationed at MCAS Beaufort, what would that mean for the station's future, and how likely is such an outcome?: The Marine Corps' short take-off, vertical landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the F-35B, will replace by 2023 all of the F-18 Hornets currently flown at the air station. So if no Joint Strike Fighter squadrons are assigned to MCAS Beaufort, the base's future is bleak, said Carlotta Ungaro, president and CEO of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.

However, this seems unlikely. All four alternatives in the draft assign at least some of the fighters to the air station.

Will there be more or fewer flights out of MCAS Beaufort under the preferred option?: The report said the annual number of takeoffs and landings at the air station would nearly double, from 55,000 to 99,880 because the two training squadrons that would be assigned there fly more frequently.

How much more "sound of freedom" will the F-35s entail, compared to the F-18 Hornets currently flown at the air station?: According to the report, increased flights at the air station will expose 8,725 residents living in 2,371 homes near the base to noise levels greater than 65 decibels. More than 7,170 residents living in 1,867 homes near the base currently are exposed to noise levels higher than 65 decibels, the report said.

However, Lockheed Martin, which is building the $90 million jets, has yet to do extensive noise testing on the jet.

Fred Pierson, a Navy noise expert, said jet noise depend largely on how the jet is being flown. It is designed to fly at high altitudes, which might mitigate noise, even if the jets' single engines are measurably louder than the Hornets' twin engines, the report suggests.

Will the F-35B's arrival require changes to land-use patterns around the air station?: None is expected under the preferred alternative, according to the report.

Will the likelihood of a crash increase or decrease if F-35s are stationed here?: Though the number of daily flights at the base would increase, the report said the chances of an air station F-35 crashing will remain unchanged.

All of the alternatives described in the environmental impact statement entail some new construction at the air station. What is the expected economic impact of this construction?: According to the report, to prepare for the arrival the new jet, the base would need $351.8 million in infrastructure improvements in the next five years, including a pilot-training center, new hangars and flight simulators. The base also will need to build special pads to accommodate the jets' vertical landing and take-off capabilities.

Expected to begin late this year or early 2011, the construction work would create nearly 4,400 temporary construction jobs over five years, the report said. During the peak of the construction, 1,345 temporary construction jobs would be created, which would result in $57.7 million in labor income. The work also is expected to generate at least $30 million in taxes to state and local governments over five years.

Will there be more or fewer military personnel stationed at MCAS Beaufort under the preferred option? MCAS Beaufort would be home to 294 fewer Marines -- 92 fewer officers and 202 fewer enlisted Marines. This 6 percent reduction in the air station's workforce would result in the loss of $12.7 million in annual payroll income, the report said.

The report said those job losses probably would be offset by construction jobs, civilian contractor jobs and student pilots training and living in Beaufort for eight to 12 months.

Will there be more or fewer civilian contractors stationed at MCAS Beaufort under the preferred option? The report does not predict how the arrival of Joint Strike Fighter squadrons would affect the air station's 580 civilian workers.

According to the report, "changes in civilian and contractor personnel associated with the introduction of the F-35B are anticipated under this alternative; however, the number of these non-military personnel is continually changing as the aircraft and its systems evolve."

What comes next in the Pentagon's decision-making process?: Once the public comment period on the first draft of the report ends July 12, the Navy and Marine Corps will begin work on the final draft, which is expected to be published in the Federal Register in November. A final decision on where the squadrons will be placed is expected in December.

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