Training the first operational Lockheed Martin F-35 pilots and maintainers has started at Eglin AFB, Florida, with the arrival of the first two conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) aircraft in July.

Flight training is still waiting for final clearance but 33rd Fighter Wing instructors will start ground training, including cockpit familiarisation and taxi tests for pilots and mechanical systems for maintainers.

The training involves "basically everything you can do with an airplane on the ground," US Marine Corps Col Art Tomassetti, vice commander of the 33rd Wg, said.

More aircraft will join the unit by the end of this year.

Col Andrew Toth, 33rd Wg commander, initially said Lockheed was scheduled to deliver a total of five CTOL F-35As and three short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs before January.

F-35A Eglin - Lockheed Martin
 © Lockheed Martin

However, he subsequently clarified through Lockheed that only one F-35B is planned before 2012.

The aircraft arriving at Eglin this year is just the beginning of a broad expansion of the wing's training operations.

F-35 operations at the base will eventually grow to train about 100 pilots and 2,200 maintainers every year, Joanne Puglisi, Lockheed's director of F-35 training, said.

"It's important for us to get that future right," Tomassetti said.

"We've got to get it right because everything we do here will basically spread out globally as F-35 spreads out globally."

Lockheed's training system, including simulators and instruction materials, will enter an operational user evaluation on 1 October, in which military tests will decide whether to validate the system for operations.

The delays of the F-35 development phase, which is now running at least five years behind schedule, has no impact on the training curriculum.

Instruction materials are tailored for the operations the fighter has been cleared in tests to perform, and will expand as the flight envelope increases, Toth said.

Source: Flight International