The F-35B today conducted its first flight out of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., one of several steps needed to officially stand up pilot training for the new Lockheed Martin stealthy jet at the base.
The aircraft took off from Eglin at 10:00 CST.
The first F-35A flight at Eglin took place in March; officials refer to the flight now taking place at the base as an “orientation” flight. The goal is to start an operational utility evaluation (OUE) this summer using six F-35As.
The OUE will be managed by Air Force and Navy flight testing experts, and the outcome of the exercise will determine whether Air Education and Training Command approves the initiation of formal pilot training.
The start of training is a key milestone for the F-35 program, which has suffered in past years from production and testing delays. Trained pilots and maintainers are needed for the services to declare initial operational capability (IOC) with their F-35 versions. The Marine Corps will likely the first, with a goal of IOC as soon as next couple of years. Once F-35s begin entering the fleets, the services can begin retiring some older fighters that are costly to maintain.
To date, 47 F-35A sorties have been executed at Eglin in addition to today’s F-35B flight, says Chrissy Cuttita, a spokeswoman for the base.
During the lull between deliveries and flights, the 33rd Fighter Wing used the aircraft for ground-based maintenance trainers.