F-35 pilot training at Eglin AFB, Florida, is picking up stream as the US Air Force‘s 33rd Fighter Wing gears up for its operational utility evaluation later this summer. Already, the unit has gradated its first true student–US Marine Corps Lt Col Roger Hardy–who finished his transition course last week. Hardy is the Defense Contract Management Agency‘s first F-35 acceptance pilot–his job will be to ensure new jets being delivered from Lockheed Martin‘s Fort Worth plant are meeting their specs. Unlike others who have transitioned to the F-35, he is not a test pilot nor is a member of the initial instructor pilot cadre.
Marine Lt Col Roger Hardy on his check ride-July 10, 2012–USAF Photo Maj Karen Roganov
Additionally, the commander of VMFAT-501, Marine Lt Col David “Chip” Berke has started his transition to the F-35B. That makes him the third Marine pilot to start training at the Florida base, but unlike Maj Joseph “OD”Bachmann or vice-wing commander Col Arthur “Turbo” Tomassetti, Berke is not a test pilot. His first flight was on 11 June when I was at Farnborough–but it was also Elgin’s 100th F-35 sortie.
“The realistic training of the Full Mission Simulator prepared me well for flying the F-35 for the first time,” Berke says. “Unlike legacy aircraft, there is no back seat in the F-35. So the first time you fly and land the aircraft it is just the pilot.”
Marine Lt Col David Burke after his flight–he is flying an aircraft with OD’s name on it though. USAF photo by Maj Karen Roganov
Burke taxiing in… USAF Photo by Maj Karen Roganov
But the Marines and active component Air Force are not the only ones who are starting to fly the F-35 at Eglin. The first Air National Guard pilots have started to train at the 33rd Fighter Wing. More on that later…