The Air Force's F-35A Joint Strike Fighter training jets that have been sitting on the tarmac at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., -- home of the F-35 schoolhouse -- have finally been cleared to fly.
Now, this doesn't mean that student pilots will be strapping on the A-model jets later in the week. The Eglin jets face months of test flights to make sure that the small fleet can actually perform the training mission before any student pilots can get behind the controls. Click here to read a post I wrote last week over at DoDBuzz on this topic.
The pic above shows Eglins first F-35A arriving at the base from the JSF factory in Texas last summer. The planes have been sitting on the ground since arrival while the waited for their Military Flight Release (the green light to begin flight ops).
Here's the Air Force's press release announcing that the jets have been cleared for flight:
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Officials at the Aeronautical Systems Center here issued a Military Flight Release today that will allow the F-35A Lightning II fighter to begin initial operations at Eglin AFB, Fla.
This decision was reached after an airworthiness board conducted an assessment that evaluated potential risks and the corresponding mitigation actions to conduct unmonitored flights. Flying the Air Force variant of the Joint Strike Fighter will increase pilot and maintainer familiarity with the aircraft, exercise the logistics infrastructure and continue to develop aircraft maturity. These initial F-35A flights will be limited, scripted, conducted within the restrictions and stipulations of the MFR and flown by qualified pilots, officials said.
"The Air Force, Joint Strike Fighter Program Office and other stakeholders have painstakingly followed established risk acceptance and mitigation processes to ensure the F-35A is ready. This is an important step for the F-35A and we are confident the team has diligently balanced the scope of initial operations with system maturity," said General Donald Hoffman, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, the parent organization of ASC.
The assessment was conducted with airworthiness engineering subject matter experts within ASC and was fully coordinated with the F-35 joint Strike Fighter Program Office, Air Education and Training Command, and other expert participants. The Air Force is confident the aircraft is ready to fly in a safe and efficient manner, Hoffman said.