F-35 test pilots at Eglin AFB have flown seven local area orientation flights around the Florida base since flight operations began on 6 March, a US Air Force official says.

"We've flown seven sorties so far and are planning to fly four more next week," the USAF official says. "We've only cancelled two sorties and they were both for weather."

Two qualified test pilots - USAF Lt Col Eric Smith and US Marine Corps Maj Joseph Bachmann - are flying a series of local area flights to gauge the readiness of the 33rd Fighter Wing's new Lockheed Martin F-35As and assess the unit's maintenance procedures.

Once the aircraft and maintenance procedures prove they are up to the task of running a full-scale training syllabus, the USAF's Air Education and Training Command will authorise the wing to start preparing new instructor pilots and students.

Smith and Bachmann will serve as instructors for the rest of the wing's aviators. The USAF, USMC and US Navy have assembled some of their best, most experienced pilots to form the initial training cadre at the 33rd Fighter Wing.

"Overall, I'd say we are tracking as planned," the air force official says.

USMC short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs also stationed at the base will fly once the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) clears them to start training.

"Depending on the outcome of the NAVAIR flight readiness review, we hope to get the F-35Bs flying here within the next month or two," the official says.

Source: Flight International