The F-35 training program took a crucial step forward on Friday when Maj. Joseph Scholtz became the first outside pilot to fully complete his training on the Defense Department’s prize jet.
Three more pilots are expected to be fully certified by Tuesday, according to officials at Eglin Air Force base, Fla., a major milestone for the program.
Previously an A-10 pilot, Scholtz is one of two operational evaluators who have been working at Eglin to asses the training system for the Air Force. The training course involved six weeks of class work and simulators, followed by six weeks of flights. Twenty of the required 24 flights on the Air Force F-35A variant have been completed.
Once Scholtz’s fellow evaluators finish their flights next week, they will begin a report for Gen. Edward Rice, who heads USAF’s Air Education and Training Command. If Rice approves of the report, training will begin in earnest at Eglin come January with a first class of six pilots.
At full operation, Eglin will be training 2,200 students a year, 100 of whom will be pilots. The base will also train international trainees for the program, with personnel from the U.K. and the Netherlands already planning to visit next year.
Friday’s final flight test was led by Lt. Col. Eric Smith, who flew alongside Scholtz and put him through a number of drills. Those included flying in formation, instrument tests and “a couple approaches,” according to Smith.
Scholtz actually finished the flying portion of the training three weeks ahead of schedule, which Smith credited to good weather and a “great job” of the maintenance crews.
“Big picture: things have gone really well,” said Smith.
“Lockheed’s built a wonderful, simple aircraft,” said Technical Sergeant Matthew Burch, an F-35A crew chief and a flight line expediter for the nine JSFs at Eglin.
All pictures by Maj Karen Roganov, USAF.