Kiwanis Club talks AL defense projects

Published 7:37 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2018

VALLEY — The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a controversial and extremely costly defense project for some but could be a gold mine for the state of Alabama.

Major Shawn Dailey talked about this at Wednesday’s noon hour meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley. A Maine native, Dailey has lived in the Valley area since 1994. Prior to that he served in the U.S. Air Force and is now with the Alabama Air National Guard.

After growing up in Maine and being stationed in Alaska and in North Dakota while in the Air Force, Dailey wanted to get out of cold weather places and live in a warmer climate. He now lives in the south but is stuck with the nickname “Alaska,” for the time he spent there.

Email newsletter signup

Many local people remember him for the time he worked at the Valley Post Office from 1997-2008. He was the city’s postmaster when he joined the Alabama Air National Guard, where Gov. Kay Ivey is his boss.

Dailey spends much of his time with the 187th Fighter Wing, based at Danley Field in Montgomery. He has served deployments in Iraq and Kuwait.

“We have 1,500 people at our base,” he said. “500 of them are maintenance people.”

He touts aircraft maintenance as a great career opportunity for young people who are coming along today. It’s a rare field when someone 18 years old with the right training can make $30 an hour.

This opportunity is opening up for Alabama due to the fact the state has one of only six places in the world where F-35s will be based. There’s an excellent chance a new aircraft construction plant will be locating near historic Moton Field in Tuskegee. Should this come to fruition, it will be an enormous economic opportunity for the east-central Alabama region. In addition to the main plant where T-100 trainers will be built, there will be a need for supplier plants that are located nearby.

The F-35 is a fifth-generation jet fighter. It’s worlds ahead of the F-16, which was widely considered the world’s best jet fighter until the F-35 came along. Dailey says the difference between the two planes is comparable to the difference between a Ford Pinto and a Ferrari. It’s a single engine, all-weather stealth multi-role fighter. It’s designed to perform ground-attack and air-superiority missions.

The pilot’s helmet costs $400,000 but can do some amazing things. He (or she) can see a man walking down the street from 20,000 feet up. The pilot can pick up cell phone calls from that distance.

“Everything you need is in the visor,” Dailey said. “It tells you the speed of the plane, and you can even fire a weapon with it.”

Dailey has been on F-16 flights over Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn prior to the kickoff. The group of planes flies over the stadium just as the Auburn band is finishing the last note of the National Anthem. Two minutes before that they were over West Point Lake and heading that way.

Modern technology is amazing, but the U.S. military has yet to find a bomber better than the B-52.

“It’s still effective,” Dailey said. “It can carry huge payloads.”

The first ones came out in the early 1950s, but they have been modernized over the years.

The B-52, Dailey said, was the one weapon most feared by the Iraqis. They knew they could obliterate everything around you.

With the F-35 being based here, Lockheed will be here, too.

“We will have to hire a lot of people for high-paying jobs,” Dailey said.

Dailey said that he enjoys talking to school groups and asking them to consider careers in the Air National Guard.

“You can join the Guard the first day of your senior year in high school,” he said. “It will take care of your first year of a six-year commitment, and all you have to do is to show up for drills. You get paid the whole time you are in training.”

Dailey said he’s discovered that today’s high school senior is very smart in mapping out their future.

“There’s no way they should have to take out a student loan,” he said.

Dailey said that he gets to bomb Mississippi four days out of the week.

He’s with a crew that flies out of Montgomery and heads toward the Magnolia State, where they drop concrete bombs over a remote area. The real ones are dropped on the Florida panhandle.

“I love what I do,” he said. “It never gets old for me. People are being paid better than they used to be, and technology is constantly improving. If you don’t go out to be the best, you won’t be the best. We need to have the world’s best technology to continue to have the world’s best military.”