The US Air Force's first Lockheed Martin F-35A training unit, the 33rd Fighter Wing (FW) at Eglin AFB, Florida, expects to complete the flying portion of the jet's operational utility evaluation (OUE) early next week.
"As of this morning [9 November], we have flown 20 of 24 planned OUE sorties and completed the checkout for our first non-Eglin based pilot," says Col Andrew Toth, the commander of the 33rd FW.
Major Joe Scholtz, one of two operational evaluators who are assessing the training system for the stealthy single-engine jet, is now fully checked out in the F-35A. Scholtz is assigned to the elite 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nevada. If all goes as planned, the Nevada-based unit will be receiving their first F-35As in the very near future.
In addition to the two evaluators, who are part of the Pentagon's Joint Operational Test Team (JOTT), there are two 33rd Fighter Wing cadre pilots assigned to the OUE class along with two alternates. If there are no problems with the weather or aircraft, the 33rd FW expects to complete the OUE by either Tuesday or Wednesday. Once the flying portion of the OUE is complete, the evaluators can begin writing their assessment of the F-35 system and the training pipeline at Eglin AFB. The resulting report will eventually be forwarded to Gen Edward Rice, commander of the USAF's Air Education and Training Command.
If Rice is satisfied that the F-35 and the 33rd FW is ready to start training operations, he will give his formal assent.