F-35 pilots from the initial cadre at Eglin AFB, Florida,have started their transition to the new aircraft. Initially, the 33rdFighter 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 PaxRiver test facility. He was scheduled to fly his first local sortie today in anF-35B, but was forced to postpone due to deteriorating weather. He’ll be givingit another shot in the morning.
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But 33rd FW is working on getting its firstnon-test pilot checked out on the F-35. Lt Col Lee Kloos, the commander of the58th Fighter Squadron, should be finished his six-ride transitioncourse in the next week or two.
The veteran F-16 operational tester and Weapons School grad sharedsome 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 thehandling because it’s not an F-22,” Kloos says. “An F-22 is unique in itsability to maneuver and we’ll never be that.”
But compared to other aircraft, a combat-configured F-35 probablyedges out other existing designs carrying a similar load-out. “When I’mdownrange in Badguyland that’s the configuration I need to haveconfidence in maneuvering, and that’s where I think the F-35 starts to edge outan 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’sperformance. “You put all that on, I’ll take the F-35 as far as handlingcharacteristic and performance, that’s not to mention the tactical capabilitiesand advancements in stealth,” he says. “It’s of course way beyond what the F-16has currently.”
The F-35′s acceleration is “very comparable” to a Block 50F-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 thinkwould probably outperform it.”
The F-16, Kloos says, is a very capable aircraft in a withinvisual range engagement–especially in the lightly loaded air-to-air configurationused during training sorties at home station. “It’s really good at performingin that kind of configuration,” Kloos says. “But that’s not a configurationthat I’ve ever–I’ve been in a lot of different deployments–and those are theconfigurations I’ve never been in with weapons onboard.”
Meanwhile, the F-35A continues to increase its sortiegeneration rate with another two-turn-two launch at Eglin earlier today. Thesecond F-35A flight was cut somewhat short due to the same weather patternthat scrubbed Tomassetti’s flight.