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The F-35A Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters can take to the skies with the Military Flight Release issued last February 28. The multi-million jet fighters has been stuck with test flights until the US Air Force Aeronautical System Center issued MFR. Now, the F-35A JSF can perform initial operations at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
Previously, all F-35A flights were limited to the test flights done by a select number of qualified test pilots at the Edwards Air Base in California and Naval Air Station Patuxent River flight test centers. Units of F-35A started arriving at the Eglin AFB in the summer of 2011, but stayed grounded while waiting for the MFR. Qualified Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps pilots can now fly the jet fighters starting with the Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) F-35A variant. Before the MFR clearance, these pilots can only perform taxi test and simulator flights, but could not fly the F-35A to the skies.
An airworthiness board assessed and evaluated the potential risks and corresponding remedial action for unmonitored flights of the F-3A, before issuing the MFR. The Air Force looks forward to finally see the F-35A Lightning II in the air. This will increase the pilots and maintenance staff familiarity with the aircraft, exercising the logistics infrastructure as well as develop the continued maturity of the aircraft.
“The Air Force, Joint Strike Fighter Program Office and other stakeholders have painstakingly followed established risk acceptance and mitigation processes to ensure the F-35A is ready. This is an important step for the F-35A and we are confident the team has diligently balanced the scope of initial operations with system maturity,” said General Donald Hoffman, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, the parent organization of ASC.
The Eglin Air Force Bas has two qualified F-35A test pilots. Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Smith and Marine Maj. Joseph Bachmann will act as the initial trainers for the rest of the pilots at the 33rd Fighter Wing.