The Air Force approved the formal start of pilot training on the A-model of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at a Florida military base, paving the way for 36 expert pilots to be trained next year as instructors for the new stealth warplane, reports Andrea Shalal-Esa of Yahoo News.
Air Force General Edward Rice, the four-star general in charge of Air Education and Training Command, said an operational evaluation completed this fall showed that Eglin Air Force Base was ready to start training pilots to fly the radar-evading Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 jet in January.
“It’s a milestone,” Rice told Reuters in a telephone interview. “We are ready at this point to begin our formal training program.”
The news came days after the Pentagon signed a $3.8 billion contract with Lockheed to buy a fifth batch of F-35s, a move that safeguarded those funds from automatic budget cuts that are due to start taking effect in January, unless Congress finds other ways to cut the deficit.
Rice announced his decision to declare the F-35 “ready for training” after a meeting with officers who oversee the Florida air base, where the Marine Corps is also training its pilots to fly the B-model of the new plane. Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, the Pentagon’s F-35 program manager, was also slated to visit the Florida base on Monday.
Colonel Andrew Toth, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing at the base, said a total of 88 pilots were slated for F-35 training next year, including pilots from the Marines Corps, Navy and foreign militaries, in addition to the Air Force.