By Kelly Werthmann

DENVER (CBS4)– Fighter planes are a critical part of keeping our country safe, but many of the aircrafts used today are aging. Lockheed Martin has created a state-of-the-art upgrade that could soon give the Colorado Air National Guard a much-needed boost.

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“I would equate it to trading in your 1980s Ferrari to a brand new one,” Major Jordan Wilkie, a pilot with the Colorado Air National Guard, said.

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Major Wilkie, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan while active duty, is used to flying F-16s, the fighter jet the military has used and modified for decades.

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“It’s kind of been gutted on the inside,” he said of the F-16, built in the 1980s. “Things have sort of been replaced, kind of piecemealed together on the inside. It works great, but what they’ve done [with the F-35] is infinitely easier for a pilot to operate.”

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In an effort to help replace the aging F-16, Lockheed Martin developed the F-35 that’s equipped with stealth technology, advanced sensors, weapons capacity and range.

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They call it “The World’s Most Advanced Fighter,” and say the F-35 is the most lethal, survivable and connected fighter aircraft ever built. Wilkie took a test flight of the powerful aircraft in a simulator Thursday morning during a private event at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum.

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“It provides much more situational awareness for the pilot into the battle space and surrounding threats,” Wilkie told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann. “It’s awesome.”

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F-35s are already taking flight from bases around the world, but Congressman Jason Crow is working to have a fleet at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.

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“Colorado is a great place to have this. We are a leader in the aerospace industry and we have a long history of supporting our military and national defense in our community,” said Crow, a Democrat representing Congressional District 6, adding there is a local economic benefit, too. “The F-35 program specifically supports 1,800 jobs and families in our community, in Aurora and surrounding areas.”

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Crow also said bringing an F-35 fleet to Colorado is vital for the state’s military as well as national security.

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“F-35 is the next generation of fighter jets and aircraft for the Air Force, and if we want to ensure the sustainability of the Colorado Air National Guard and Buckley Air Force Base, we have to be part of the that next generation of aircraft.”

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LINK: F-35 Lightning II

Kelly Werthmann

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