Tuesday, April 28, 2009

F-35 test plane flies over Eglin

by Samuel King Jr., 96th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft arrived here April 21 to educate the base and local community about the Department of Defense and world's newest fighter.

The arrival of the test F-35, called AA-1, kicked off a week full of events to showcase the aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base.

"We are very proud to host these JSF events," said Col. Arnold Bunch, the Air Armament Center vice commander. "We hope everyone has a chance to see the aircraft, ask questions and get a better understanding of its importance. This is the future of Eglin and of the Air Force."

Along with the aircraft, Lockheed Martin brought a cockpit demo, simulators and subject matter experts to give the base and community leaders a firsthand look at the cockpit and what it would feel like to fly the fifth generation fighter.

"What starts at Eglin, will change the world," said Dan Crowley, a senior Lockheed Martin.

Those in attendance here had an opportunity to see the $44 million fighter take flight over the base and local area during a sortie April 23. It cruised in the sky with two F-16 Fighting Falcon chase aircraft before passing over the runway for some touch-and-go maneuvers. Afterward, it was parked by the McKinley Climatic Lab for viewing on base.

Marine Brig. Gen. David Heinz, the program executive officer for the JSF program, stressed the importance of the aircraft to troops on the ground.

"The warfighters, the best and brightest of all our nations called to duty and asked to stand out on the very edge -- the pointy edge -- they are relying on us to deliver a safe, effective and affordable product," the general said.

Nine countries and three U.S. services have orders for the new aircraft and they all will pass through Eglin AFB to learn to fly the F-35.

The 33rd Fighter Wing will transition from an operational fighter unit into a joint training unit in October to educate and train the pilots. The first of the new fighters are scheduled to arrive here in March 2010.