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Central Coast Jet Center hosts training operation for future Navy fighter pilots

Posted at 5:34 PM, Sep 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-30 22:36:18-04

Over the next few days, people in Santa Maria and Orcutt may see and hear more planes flying overhead.

Friday afternoon, the latest batch of future Navy fighter pilots touched ground in Santa Maria. They will be training at the Central Coast Jet Center, a family-owned fixed base operator on the south side of the Santa Maria Airport.

"These guys, they are a bunch of new students, they are coming out to start their careers as fighter pilots," said Chris Kunkle, Central Coast Jet Center President.

The group of F-18 pilots is flying in from Lemoore Naval Air Station, and Kunkle says the Santa Maria Airport is the sole location within hundreds of miles where this type of weekend training operation can be accommodated.

"The 8,000-foot runway is a huge part of what they need to operate," he told KSBY. "We are the longest runway between San Jose and LAX civilian airport. Our facility where we are able to fuel them under the government contract, all of these things just add to making their experience one of none."

But due to the booming sounds of planes flying overhead, some locals have mixed feelings about the increased noise in their neighborhood.

"Oh, they go right over me," said Orcutt resident Frank Silva. "Hey, they got to train, it is the way it is. But I would like them to share it with Vandenberg and Point Mugu to practice landing."

"I think it's great. I like watching airplanes. That airport has got a mile-long runway, it is made for big planes. I like seeing the planes here," remarked Santa Maria resident Greg Muscio.

While Kunkle agrees the noise may be a nuisance for some, he says that pilots who fly into their Jet Center also help boost the local economy.

"Another big part of this whole operation is what it brings to our community. They buy lots of gas, they are using hotels, they are eating here and going to local breweries; different things that bring a big stimulant to the community," Kunkle added.

He says at times the Jet Center will accommodate anywhere from 60 to 80 people flying into the airport, which he says translates to thousands of dollars worth of local income in Santa Maria that would not be there otherwise.

"Making them feel like they are welcome is a huge part of our operation but also providing timely service and the amenities the Jet Center can add. We want to make it as much as home as we can for them," he added.

The incoming pilots were unavailable for interviews due to their tight training schedules. They will depart from the Santa Maria Airport and head back to Lemoore this coming Sunday.

Kunkle also says that due to high demand recently, additional future training operations can be expected at the airport over the coming months.