Eglin Air Force Base has the largest fleet of F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters, with 25 aircraft in their Integrated Training Center, including two new Air Force F-35A variants. The expansion gives the 58th Fighter Squadron the ability to train more pilots and run more flights each day.
So far, more than 30 pilots from Air Force, Marine and Navy teams have been trained on the F-35 at Elgin, utilizing full mission simulators and comprehensive curriculum. By the end of this year, about 72 pilots are slated to graduate F-35 transition pilot training — made possible by a growing fleet of well-maintained aircraft.
Each aircraft is assigned to a dedicated crew chief, responsible for the fighter’s maintenance. One such maintainer is Tech. Sgt. Lance Murphy with the 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit at Eglin, who likens his F-35 maintenance to NASCAR auto chiefs and crews.
“There is that same excitement when the jet is maintained and then goes out for a successful flight just like a successful race,” Murphy said. “This is awesome knowing the jet belongs to you. It’s my responsibility to know the overall maintenance of this particular jet bearing my name on the side.”
Also necessary for successful F-35 training is a top-notch training course. Maj. Jay Spohn, assistant director of operations at Eglin’s 58th Fighter Squadron, believes that the F-35s stream of accomplishments stem directly from their new training course that was designed specifically for the fighter.
“It’s an accomplishment that in less than six months since we started pilot training, we have been able to produce a course as good as any fighter course created in the last 20 years,” said Spohn.
By the time Eglin’s F-35 fleet grows to 35 aircraft, the base will graduate about 100 pilots and 2,100 maintainers yearly.