F-35 Lightning II News

New F-35 flagship welcomed by youngest pilot, crew chiefs

July 31, 2020 (by SSgt. Sean Martin) - Three new F-35A Lightning II aircraft belonging to the 354th Fighter Wing arrived from the factory line at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, to their home station on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, July 30, 2020.

The 354th FW flagship, F-35A #18-5354, flown by 1st Lt. Billy Mullis, a 356th FS pilot, taxis on the flight line at Eielson AFB on July 30th, 2020. The three flagship F-35As were flown from the Lockheed Martin factory in Fort Worth to their home station in Alaska. [USAF photo by TSgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla]

The fighter jets were flagships representing the 354th FW and the 355th and 356th Fighter Squadrons. Eielson's newest and youngest F-35A pilot, 1st Lt. Billy Mullis, 356th FS, had the rare opportunity to fly the 354th FW flagship to its permanent home.

"This was an amazing opportunity," said Mullis. "The flight was about six hours and I have never flown that long in any jet period. Getting to fly from Texas to Alaska was awesome."

From a young age, Mullis has dreamed of becoming a pilot one day.

"Since elementary school, I have been looking at military planes and they were always something I was interested in," said Mullis. "I was initially drawn to becoming a pilot on the F-16 Fighting Falcon, but when I got to pilot training, I learned about the F-35 and what kind of plane it was as well as the opportunities I would have so I put it as number one on my dream sheet with no expectation of getting it. The luck and timing lined up and there was one available at that time."

Once airborne, Mullis is solely responsible for one of the Air Force's newest fifth-generation aircraft. They bring an enhanced capability to survive in the advanced threat environment in which it was designed to operate

"The systems that this jet has the abilities we have to employ them are next level; it's awesome," said Mullis.

The team that received the jet was also comprised of the youngest Airmen in their respective fields; Airmen 1st Class Lukas Turley and Anthony Iavarone, both 354th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-35A assistant dedicated crew chiefs.

"The feeling that comes to mind is admiration for my team," said Iavarone. "To be able to be a part of something so early in my career is amazing. I am a part of a legacy that is building not only at Eielson but in the Air Force as well. This is what the future of Eielson is and it is breathtaking. I am confident in the team I work with and have nothing but gratitude towards them and my leadership."

While stationed at Eielson, F-35As will play a crucial role within the United States Indo-Pacific Command.

With its aerodynamic performance and advanced integrated avionics, the F-35A will provide next-generation stealth, enhanced situational awareness, and reduced vulnerability for the United States and allied nations.

"This is the next era in setting up fifth-generation capabilities in Alaska," said Mullis. "We've got the F-22 Raptors down at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and then getting two squadrons of F-35s, Alaska will have so many capabilities all centered in one spot."

Just like Mullis, the F-35A will be participating in its first RED FLAG-Alaska; RF-A 20-3, which starts August 3rd.

"I am going to get everything out of it that I can," said Mullis. "I've participated in a couple of large-force exercises with a lot of jets in one area and I'm interested in seeing what challenges and abilities this exercise will bring."

Mullis and his family have been at Eielson for just a few months and he said they are very thankful for this experience and to be a part of such an amazing team.

"Being part of the 356th FS is amazing," said Mullis. "It's a work hard, play hard, kind of squadron. There are long days and a lot of work, but we are all a part of history and I wouldn't choose anything else over it."


Courtesy of 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

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Additional images:

1st Lt. Billy Mullis, 356th FS F-35A pilot, poses for a photo at Lockheed-Martin in Fort Worth on July 30th, 2020. Mullis had the privilege of flying the 354th FW flagship to its home station at Eielson AFB. [Lockheed Martin photo by Chris Hanoch]

1st Lt. Billy Mullis, 356th FS F-35A pilot, poses for a photo at Lockheed-Martin in Fort Worth on July 30th, 2020. Mullis had the privilege of flying the 354th FW flagship to its home station at Eielson AFB. [Lockheed Martin photo by Chris Hanoch]