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F-35 Local Area Flights Could Start Next Week

Feb. 26, 2012 - 04:51PM   |  
By Dave Majumdar   |   Comments
  • Filed Under

Test pilots at the 33rd Fighter Wing should start flying early next week after the U.S. Air Force’s Aeronautical Systems Center approved a military flight release Feb. 28, Air Force sources said.

Wing officials will brief Air Education and Training Command (AETC) chief Gen. Edward Rice on March 2 about the unit’s plans to conduct local area flights around Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. If everything goes well, Rice should approve the 33rd Fighter Wing to begin flight operations.

Flight operations could begin as early as March 6 if the weather cooperates, sources said.

That first sortie would be flown by one of Eglin’s two F-35 qualified test pilots: Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Smith or Marine Maj. Joseph Bachmann. Potentially, both pilots might fly if the wing launches a two-ship of F-35s.

Once local area flight operations prove the aircraft and maintenance procedures at Eglin are robust enough to sustain a full-scale training course for transitioning instructor pilots and students, AETC will start the syllabus for the remaining pilots at the base.

Smith and Bachmann will act as the initial instructors for the rest of the cadre at the 33rd Fighter Wing. The three services have selected some of the best, most experienced pilots to form the initial batch of instructors at Eglin.

Marine Corps officials are expecting their pilots to start flying the F-35B in late March after the Naval Air Systems Command completes an independent safety audit.

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