April 27, 2009 (by Samuel King Jr.) - "What starts here at Eglin, will change the world." This was the sentiment echoed by Lockheed Martin's Dan Crowley and many others during the arrival and showcase of the Joint Strike Fighter on April 21-23.
An F-35 Lightning II aircraft flies over Eglin AFB on April 23rd, 2009. The aircraft is the first of its type to visit the base, which will be the future home of the Joint Strike Fighter training facility. [USAF photo by SrA. Julianne Showalter]
After an initial delay, the test F-35 called AA-1 landed the afternoon of April 21. The landing kicked off a week full of events designed to educate the base and local community about the Department of Defense and world's newest fighter.
"We are very proud to host these JSF
events," said Col. Arnold Bunch, Air Armament Center vice commander. "We hope everyone has a chance to see the aircraft, ask questions and get a better understanding of its importance. This is the future of Eglin and of the Air Force."
Along with the aircraft, Lockheed Martin brought a cockpit demo, simulators and subject matter experts to give the base and community leaders a first-hand look at the cockpit and what it would feel like to fly the fifth generation fighter.
On April 22, the area had an opportunity to see the $44 million fighter take flight over the base and local area during a sortie, (only its 83). It cruised the skies with two F-16 chase aircraft before passing over the runway for some touch-and-gos. Cars pulled off the road and parked along Eglin Parkway and area roadways just to watch the new fighter in action.
Afterward, it was parked by the McKinley Climatic Lab for viewing on base.
Marine Brig. Gen. David Heinz, program executive officer for the JSF program, stressed the importance of the aircraft to troops on the ground.
"The warfighters, the best and brightest of all our nations called to duty and asked to stand out on the very edge - the pointy edge... they are relying on us to deliver a safe, effective and affordable product," said the general.
Nine countries and three U.S. services have orders for the new aircraft and they all will pass through Eglin to learn to fly it.
The 33rd Fighter Wing will transition from an operational fighter unit into a joint training unit in October to educate and train the pilots. The first of the new fighters are scheduled to arrive March 2010.