Well, it looks like it's actually going to happen. Real Air Force pilots flying real production model F-35s before the year's end.
From Defense News:
The U.S. Air Force will begin training on new fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft before the end of the year, the program's top official said.Pretty darn cool considering all the bad news we've heard about the airplane over the last year.
The 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will take delivery of 20 F-35A-model conventional take-off variant aircraft with Block 1 training software after a brief informal operational evaluation so that instructor pilots can begin their training, said Vice Adm. Dave Venlet, the new JSF program executive officer.
"We're going to put them in the hands of the fleet and the Air Force is going to be operating [Conventional take-off and landing aircraft] in training at Eglin before the year ends," Venlet told a luncheon hosted by the National Aeronautic Association.
However, because it is unusual for an aircraft to be delivered to line pilots before formal operational testing is complete, Venlet said that the program will conduct an abbreviated informal test prior to handing over the new fighters.
"It's not a full operational test, it doesn't resolve any measures of effectiveness," he said.
However, it will provide an independent evaluation to the services as to how well the new fighter performs in the real world.
Apparently, even the Marines' embattled B-model short take-off and vertical landing is picking up the pace with 30 vertical landings so far this year. That jet will hopefully conduct sea trials in the fall, according to the article.
Here's the piece.