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First F-35 arrives at Eglin

  • Published
  • By Samuel King Jr.
  • Team Eglin Public Affairs
DoD's first F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft touched down at its new home here July 14, marking a major milestone in the nation's military history.

Upon arrival, AF-9 officially became part of the Air Force inventory. It now belongs to the JSF training unit, the 33rd Fighter Wing.

Flying it in was Lt. Col. Eric Smith of the 58th Fighter Squadron, the first Air Force qualified F-35 pilot.

"It was a smooth ride in," said the colonel of the hour and 40 minute flight. "The jet behaved awesomely. I'm just so proud to bring it home to Eglin."

A crowd of anxious 33rd FW people braved the 90 degree heat to watch the fifth generation fighter touchdown and taxi in. Col. Andrew Toth, the 33rd Fighter Wing commander, was the first to greet his pilot upon arrival.

"It's an exciting day here at the wing, where our joint and integrated team has been preparing for this day since October 2009," said Toth. "I have no doubt the caliber of the Airmen, Sailors, Marines and contractors will provide safe and effective training operations at Eglin. Now we look forward to the start of classes later this year."

Pilot and maintenance training is on the schedule for tail number 747. Now that the aircraft is on station, F-35 maintainers will train and be certified here at home.

"It's pretty exciting," said Tech. Sgt. Brian West, the crew chief for the new aircraft. "We're thrilled to be able to train with one of our own."

As the world's first multi-role stealth fighter, the JSF is known for its superior range, cutting-edge avionics and next-generation sensor fusion. Each model shares breakthroughs in combat performance, survivability and support, while each is specifically tailored for unique service needs.

This next-generation belongs to the 58th FS. Squadron commander, Lt. Col. J.D. Wilbourne, was thrilled to see his first aircraft arrive, one day before his change of command.

"This is the best week ever," said the commander, who flew chase with 0747 in an F-16 Fighting Falcon. "This aircraft ensures air dominance for the next 30 years and today marks the first step toward that goal."