NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- A reservist from the 706th Fighter Squadron here recently became the first to fly the F-35 Lightning II, Air Force's newest aircraft. Maj. Joseph Scholtz is an operational test pilot integrated into the active duty Air Force's 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, and currently Nellis AFB's only qualified F-35 pilot.
"It's great to be on the ground floor," said Scholtz. "The program gives us a chance to influence how the Air Force is going to operate." The 422nd TES is unique in that it is the Air Force's only flying squadron to have all fighter aircraft with A-10s, F-15Cs, F-15Es, F-16s, F-22s, and now the nation's newest airframe, the F-35.
Each flying platform in the 422nd TES is designated by a division, and each division generally takes several years of planning meetings, infrastructure expansion and dedicated maintenance support to build up. At least one reservist is integrated into each division to provide continuity over the years.
"Maj Scholtz was a natural choice upon which to build our new F-35 division," said Lt. Col. Ryan Suttlemyre, 422nd TES commander. "He is incredibly smart on the test process, a hard worker, and very detail oriented." Before joining the Reserve in 2009, Scholtz was an active duty Airman in the 422nd TES flying A-10s. His prior experience with the unit coupled with the potential to remain at Nellis for a longer duration, proved advantageous to the new program.
After board selection for the position, Scholtz trained for three months at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to become qualified to fly the fifth generation, multi-role fighter. As test director, Scholtz is responsible for organizing ways to explore tactics and learning how to integrate the aircraft with other airframes. "Some of the tests we execute are planned and flown over a number of years, and the ability to have Major Scholtz in place as the test director and long-term continuity for the program is invaluable," Suttlemyre said.
"We depend on having key relationships with the contractors and engineers that develop new hardware, software and weapons, so having the same person interact with them provides unique benefits," he said.
Just as the Reserve-active duty partnership is significant to the division at Nellis, interaction with the operational test community is essential for the program's overall success.
"While the long-term continuity of reservists is key, it's also important to balance that with a continuing influx of active duty aircrew entering the operational test community," said Suttlemyre.
"Our RegAF aircrews, most of whom are arriving from operational tours, guarantee we remain connected to the current challenges of combat-coded squadrons and what is happening in the combat theaters," he said.
The F-35 is a single-engine, single-seat fighter made for air-to-air and air-to-surface operations. It was designed with international compatibility and integration in mind, with Nellis receiving the Conventional-Takeoff-and-Landing variant specified for the Air Force.