F-35 pilots from the initial cadre at Eglin AFB, Florida, have started their transition to the new aircraft. Initially, the 33rd Fighter Wing had two test pilots who were putting the jet through its paces.
Recently, however, US Marine Corps Col Arthur Tomassetti, the unit's vice commander, has gotten checked out in the F-35 at the Navy's Pax River test facility. He was scheduled to fly his first local sortie today in an F-35B, but was forced to postpone due to deteriorating weather. He'll be giving it another shot in the morning.
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But 33rd FW is working on getting its first non-test pilot checked out on the F-35. Lt Col Lee Kloos, the commander of the 58th Fighter Squadron, should be finished his six-ride transition course in the next week or two.
The veteran F-16 operational tester and Weapons School grad shared some of his impressions the F-35. The jet is powerful, stable and easy to fly.
"One of the things this aircraft usually takes hit on is the handling because it's not an F-22," Kloos says. "An F-22 is unique in its ability to maneuver and we'll never be that."
But compared to other aircraft, a combat-configured F-35 probably edges out other existing designs carrying a similar load-out. "When I'm downrange in Badguyland that's the configuration I need to have confidence in maneuvering, and that's where I think the F-35 starts to edge out an aircraft like the F-16," Kloos says.
A combat-configured F-16 is encumbered with weapons, external fuel tanks, and electronic countermeasures pods that sap the jet's performance. "You put all that on, I'll take the F-35 as far as handling characteristic and performance, that's not to mention the tactical capabilities and advancements in stealth," he says. "It's of course way beyond what the F-16 has currently."
The F-35's acceleration is "very comparable" to a Block 50 F-16. "Again, if you cleaned off an F-16 and wanted to turn and maintain Gs and [turn] rates, then I think a clean F-16 would certainly outperform a loaded F-35," Kloos says. "But if you compared them at combat loadings, the F-35 I think would probably outperform it."
The F-16, Kloos says, is a very capable aircraft in a within visual range engagement--especially in the lightly loaded air-to-air configuration used during training sorties at home station. "It's really good at performing in that kind of configuration," Kloos says. "But that's not a configuration that I've ever--I've been in a lot of different deployments--and those are the configurations I've never been in with weapons onboard."
Meanwhile, the F-35A continues to increase its sortie generation rate with another two-turn-two launch at Eglin earlier today. The second F-35A flight was cut somewhat short due to the same weather pattern that scrubbed Tomassetti's flight.