EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- When the wheels of his F-35A Lightning II touched down here around 1 p.m., Sept. 26, Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria became the first Department of Defense general officer to complete qualification training in the joint strike fighter.
Silveria, the commander of the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis AFB, Nevada, wrapped up his seven-week training filling approximately five hours of F-35 seat time with back-to-back sorties and a hot pit refuel.
"His qualification training was seamless. He met all his requirements on the ground and in the air to be a newly qualified F-35 pilot," said Lt. Col. Matt Renbarger, the 58th Fighter Squadron commander and Silveria's trainer.
The general was chosen to become qualified based on his leadership position at the USAFWC and pilot experience. The center he leads is responsible for current and future F-35A operational testing, tactics development and eventual advanced training exercises and weapons school.
"The Warfare Center is so involved with the development and future of this aircraft that it was important for me to see and experience this new program at the lowest tactical level and bring that knowledge base back to the higher level strategic discussions with groups like F-35 program office and Air Combat Command," said Silveria, a 29-year veteran and F-15 pilot. "The training provides me insight into the entire spectrum of the F-35 program."
Based on his interaction with the F-35 integrated training center and the 33rd Fighter Wing, he said the Air Force is on the right path forward.
"It is everything we want it to be as far as training our F-35 pilots and maintainers," he said. "It's only the beginning, but it is easy to see the wing and other services are ready to handle the increase in students as this program begins to grow quickly."
The general said while he was surprised at how easy the aircraft was to fly, the most impressive part of the F-35 is the fifth generation fusion features that will ultimately benefit the warfighter.
"The real upgrade is the integration," said Silveria. "The fusion of all those flight components in sync with each other was the most impressive. The communication and navigation work with the flight controls which connect to the radar. They all come together to make the aircraft that much more capable."
The data and information passing through those integrated systems is constantly being updated. Many of those updates are built at Eglin in the 513th Electronic Warfare Squadron's F-35 reprogramming lab. The lab is managed by the 53rd Wing, which reports to the USAFWC.
"The 513th is vital to this program," he said. "They are not only providing mission data to the Air Force, but for the other services and our allied partners. They are making world-wide impacts in that little building."
After completing his qualifying flight, Silveria took a moment to reflect on what it was like to fly DoD's newest fighter aircraft.
"It's like seeing into the future," said ACC's former Inspector General. "We're still at the beginning on so many levels with the flight and employment of this aircraft and we'll continue to improve, but even now what we're seeing is amazing. After flying it, I just foresee what a powerful weapon it will be."
"I'm confident this program will develop to reach and even go beyond our high expectations. There's an immense capability here that's going to be amazing."