October 26, 2012 (by Maj. Karen Roganov) - A second British F-35B Lightning II arrived at Eglin AFB on October 19, joining the nine A variants of the joint strike fighter flown by the Air Force and the 13 B variants flown by the Marine Corps to become the largest fleet of F-35s in the world.
The second F-35 Lightning II for the UK, BK-02 arrives at Eglin AFB on October 19th, 2012. BK-02 is embedded with USMC squadron VMFAT-501. [USAF photo by Maj. Karen Roganov]
The first class of United Kingdom Royal Air Force and Royal Navy aircraft maintainers attending courses at the F-35 Academic Training Center met the jet flown by U.K. Royal Air Force Sqn. Ldr. Jim Schofield.
"It's another exciting day for the United Kingdom and the 33rd Fighter Wing as we build up the F-35 force. The two U.K. jets now will become the backbone of test and evaluation at Edwards [Air Force Base] and we will be adding a third next year," said Sqn. Ldr. Jim Schofield. "It was great to see the first course of U.K. maintainers as I arrived to the VMFAT-501."
Service members from the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps as well as coalition partners from foreign nations, such as the U.K., learn how to operate and maintain the F-35 through a digital training environment. This kinetic learning system allows the learning to occur through touching and doing, rather than seeing and hearing.
The U.K. aircraft are imbedded in the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, and are used by both countries to conduct F-35 training. The arrival of the jet increases the capability for pilot and maintenance training.
"The fact that we're starting with the same airframe, same formations, same weapons capabilities, I think that already puts us at a better starting point when we show up to a combat theater together," said Lt. Col. Lee Kloos, squadron commander for the 58th Fighter Squadron, of the integration of forces with the F-35.
Later this month, an RAF and RN pilot will begin instructor pilot training, making them the first international pilots trained at Eglin on the fifth-generation, multi-role fighter.
The F-35 Lightning II
Joint Strike Fighter program started in 1997. The program includes plans to replace the Air Force's aging F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt II, the Marine Corps' short takeoff, vertical landing AV-8B Harrier and dogfighting and air-to-ground attacking F/A-18 Hornet and the Navy's stock of legacy Hornets.
(Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel Wetzel, Defense Media Activity, contributed to this article)