The first two production F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) will begin flying the initial training syllabus this month at the U.S. Air Force’s test center to determine whether the aircraft is ready to begin pilot training.

The conventional-take-off-and-landing (CTOL) F-35As, Aircraft AF-6 and -7, will complete a two-month maturity evaluation at Edwards AFB, Calif., flying the syllabus to be used by the JSF integrated training center at Eglin AFB, Fla. “They will be flown at a fairly high sortie with the initial version of the software and inside the initial training envelope,” says Eric Branyan, vice president and deputy F-35 program manager for manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

Completion of the maturity evaluation is expected to clear the way for pilot training to begin at Eglin using F-35As from the second low-rate initial production (LRIP) lot. AF-8 will be the first aircraft delivered to Eglin.

AF-6 and -7 are in the same configuration as the LRIP 2 jets destined for Eglin, with Block 1A mission-system software and a 350-kt./4g flight envelope, Branyan says, but they are instrumented for flight testing. AF-8 and -9 are nearing delivery to the Air Force, while AF-10 and -11 are expected to fly in the next week or so, he says. They are planned for arrival at Eglin over the next couple of months and are to be used initially for pilot and maintainer ground training.

After being cleared to fly following the maturity demonstration, the Eglin jets will undergo a two-month operational user evaluation by government test pilots before training of operational pilots can begin, which is expected by November, Branyan says.

Lockheed Martin, meanwhile, is working on the curriculum, flight simulator and maintenance trainer upgrades that will be required when deliveries of LRIP 3 jets to Eglin begin early in 2012. These will have Block 1B software and an expanded flight envelope.

The first two LRIP 3 jets, CTOL aircraft AF-14 and short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft BF-13, are scheduled to be delivered to Eglin “around the first of the year,” Branyan says. LRIP 3 also includes the first international partner aircraft: BK-1 and -2 for the U.K. and AN-1 for the Netherlands.