A US Air Force test pilot has become the first military service pilot to fly the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Lt Col James "Flipper" Kromberg flew the first F-35, aircraft AA-1, on its 26th test flight on 30 January.

Kromberg assessed the fighter's handling at 15º angle of attack, up-and-away flight control response at altitudes up to 12,000ft (3,700m), engine throttle transients and formation manouevres with a Lockheed Martin F-16.

Aircraft AA-1 completed its 27th test flight later the same day with Lockheed Martin test pilot Jeff Knowles at the controls.

F-35 first USAF pilot-1
                                                                                    © Lockheed Martin

AA-1 first flew in December 2006 and returned to flight in December 2007 after a prolonged grounding for modifications and upgrades following an electrical system anomaly that cut short its 19th test flight in May 2007.

Only the third pilot to fly the F-35, Kromberg is assigned to the USAF's 461st Flight Test Squadron, which will be involved in JSF development testing at Edwards AFB in California. AA-1 is expected to deploy to Edwards later this year for airstart testing.

F-35 first USAF pilot
                                                                                    © Lockheed Martin

A former US Marine Corps pilot, Kromberg has experience of flying the Boeing AV-8B Harrier, and well as the F-16 - both aircraft that will be replaced by the F-35. After the flight he praised the F-35's responsiveness, particularly engine thrust response and acceleration.

Lockheed says AA-1 will soon begin aerial refuelling flight tests from its Fort Worth, Texas plant. The first short take-off and vertical landing F-35B, aircraft BF-1, is expected to fly around the middle of the year.

F-35 first USAF pilot-2
                                                                                    © Lockheed Martin

The company has informed employees at the Fort Worth plant that it expects to take some 850 engineers off the JSF programme this year as design work on the F-35 winds down. This is expected to result in some 650 jobs being cut, beginning in April.

Source: FlightGlobal.com