he F-35 operational utility evaluation (OUE) kicked off as scheduled yesterday. Two "students"-- Maj Matt Johnston and Maj John Wilson-- along with one back up pilot-- Lt Col Todd Lafortune--from the 33rd FW started six weeks of academics on 10 September. They are joined by two primary "students" and another back-up student from the Joint Operational Test Team.
While the "students"--who are actually high time Weapons School graduates--work on their academics, the 33rd FW is working to get five USAF instructor pilots (IP) qualified in the F-35 to teach those transitioning pilots.
Three USAF instructors were already trained prior to this week, but yesterday a fourth IP, Lt Col Mike "Jeb" Ebner, a former Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle pilot, finished his qualification in the F-35. "The airplane feels really stable and plows through the air making for a very smooth ride," he says. "At low altitude, the aircraft has a significant amount of thrust and accelerates rapidly. The autopilot features on the aircraft make it very easy for instrument flight, allowing the pilot to fly precise altitudes, headings and airspeeds."
The fifth IP who will participate in the OUE is 33rd FW commander Col Andrew Toth. Yesterday, Toth completed his fifth flight and should fly his check ride in the F-35 the week after next.