First F-35s arrive at Eglin

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The first production model F-35 Lightning II has arrived at Eglin Air Force Base, which is the primary training centre for F-35 crew and maintenance personnel. Aircraft AF-9 was assigned to the base’s 33rd Fighter Wing when it arrived yesterday.

In early June, Lockheed Martin said it would deliver its first F-35s to Eglin within days, and that the base would receive its first aircraft before the end of the month.

Lockheed Martin spokesman Mike Rein said that six aircraft would be delivered by the end of the fiscal year, which ends on the last day of September.
“While we’ll still be delivering aircraft to other bases, Eglin will be the primary focus for the coming years,” Rein said.

Eglin was originally scheduled to receive its first F-35 in November last year, but deliveries was delayed due to technical problems and development delays.

Eglin will be an important base for the F-35 as it will be the primary training centre for F-35 crew and maintenance personnel. In 2009, the Air Force redesignated Eglin’s 33rd Fighter Wing as a training unit and began converting the wing’s facilities into a training centre, the Pensacola News Journal notes.

The base’s F-35 Integrated Training Centre includes pilot and maintenance training equipment, support, systems and facilities for all three aircraft variants (CTOL, Short Takeoff Vertical Landing [STOVL] and carrier-based). The centre will be home to a full spectrum of the latest courseware, electronic classrooms, simulators and flight events ensuring superior training for the next generation of pilots and maintainers, Lockheed Martin said.

Eglin’s first F-35 (AF-9) AF-9 is a conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) version of the fifth generation stealth fighter. Overall, the jet is the third production-model F-35 delivered to the US Air Force, with the first two assigned to Edwards AFB, California.
“We’re incredibly proud of our government/industry team whose steadfast dedication to this programme led to the successful delivery of AF-9 today,” said Larry Lawson, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F-35 programme general manager. “The exceptional capabilities of this 5th generation fighter are now in the very capable hands of the men and women of the 33rd Fighter Wing who are ushering in a new era of F-35 training. We look forward to delivering our full complement of F-35s to the Emerald Coast in the months and years ahead.”

AF-9 is the first aircraft delivered from Low Rate Initial Production lot two and the seventh F-35 delivered to the Air Force. Over the lifetime of the programme, a total of 59 F-35s will compose the fighter fleet at Eglin AFB.

The F-35A CTOL variant – designed to meet US Air Force requirements – is also the primary export version of the Lightning II. The air forces of Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway and Israel will employ the F-35A. To date, the F-35 programme has accomplished more than 925 flights since late 2006.

The F-35 project, the Pentagon’s costliest arms purchase ever, has been faced with numerous delays and technical problems. This week it was announced that 28 early production F-35 Joint Strike Fighters overshot their cost targets by a combined total of US$771 million. The Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Programme Office previously had said total costs on the first three production batches overshot their contractual targets by 11 to 15%. These “cost-plus” deals required the government to pay most of an overrun.

The F-35 is the most expensive ever US arms purchase – the cost of producing 2,443 aircraft over the next two decades is expected to amount to more than US$382 billion.

Last month Lockheed’s chief executive, Robert Stevens, said his company was confident that it could resolve development challenges facing the F-35.
“We know that we have challenges in our development programme,” Stevens, said. “But we’re confident that we know how to fix the challenges that we have.” He said that the radar-evading F-35’s performance characteristics are “very solid and very good”.

Lockheed Martin expects the F-35, due to be the backbone of U.S. air combat power for decades to come, to account for more than 20 percent of its global sales once full production kicks in, at a date still to be determined.

But the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, has said the programme has not fully shown that the aircraft design is stable or that manufacturing processes are mature and that the system is reliable.

Total development funding is now estimated at US$56.4 billion to wrap up in 2018, a 26 percent cost increase and a five-year schedule slip from the programme’s current baseline, according to GAO.