AFA: Eglin’s trainer F-35s could fly in coming weeks

AFA: Eglin’s trainer F-35s could fly in coming weeks

ORLANDO — After sitting on the ground at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida for months, the Pentagon’s fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter training jets could beging flying in a matter of weeks, the Air Force’s top training officer said Thursday.

“We’re not certainly talking months away at this point, it’s a matter of weeks in my mind and we’ll see how all that comes together,” said Gen. Edward Rice, commander of Air Education and Training Command, during a press conference at the Air Force Association’s winter conference here.

The jets have been idle since being delivered to the Florida Panhandle base as they await their military flight clearance — which Rice indicated may come in just a few weeks.


Rice went on to point out that it could be quite a while before student pilots will be allowed to take the birds into the skies. First, the service must ensure that the training plan can actually be put into action. Bascially, the Air Force has to make sure the jets can fly enough sorties to train the pilots.

“What we will do at Eglin is to take a phased approach to executing a formal pilot training syllabus,” said Rice. “We’ll have a phased that really transitions us from a no fly phase into a place where we’re ready to completely test out the syllabus. That phase will be characterized by putting more hours on the aircraft, checking out the individual elements of the syllabus; we’ll take off, we’ll go out and fly to the [training ranges] and make sure that the communications are working, when we land the aircraft we’ll make sure we can get the right maintenance data off the aircraft and send it out through the right communications channels to the right places to order the right parts [making sure] that all of that works in the real world. We’ve simulated all of that but as you know, the real world is always different than the simulated world.”

Yup, the air service is going to have to test the whole F-35 supply chain which involves a host of computerized maintenance diagnostic and parts ordering tools. Basically, a mechanic can plug the jet into a computer and the plane can tell it what parts need to be worked on and even indicated which replacement parts need to be ordered and when.

“We’re flying airplanes so we’re gonna have to be ordering parts,” added Rice.

He declined to set a date by for when Eglin’s JSF’s will be ready to be flown by large numbers of student pilots; he would only say that he think the process will probably take less than a year.

“We’ll start very slowly, a couple of flights a week and we’ll ramp that up until I’m satisfied that we can sustain enough of a sortie rate that we can go into the syllabus,” said Rice. “We have to make sure that the system matures itself such that we can sustain a sortie rate that will allow us to begin training and I don’t know how long that will take. It will take as long as it takes, the good news is that I’m not being pushed by anybody or anything at this point.”

“I don’t think its a year, but I think from begin to end its more than three months,” he added. So, is it larger than a breadbox? Yes. Is it smaller than a Volkswagen? Probably.”

Only after the system is validated will student pilots be cleared to slowly begin training in the jet.

“Once I’ve decided, ‘ok, I think we’re ready,’ we will go through a phase where we’ll test the entire syllabus,” said Rice. “We’ll take students, we’ll put them through day one, they’ll graduate on day X and we’ll run the whole syllabus. If I’m satisfied that yes, all of that has come together and we can train students, then the last phase will be we’ll start to train [big groups of] students” to fly the jet.

Remember, F-35 deliveries have been further slowed to allow the program to complete its testing and development phase — slated to end in 2016 — before a ton of production aircraft are built. This means the demand for F-35 pilots shouldn’t be enormous for the next few years. Still, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the Eglin planes to begin training pilots once the jets are cleared. Hopefully there will be no major surprises when the service begins to actually test out the supply chain in the real world.  We’ll see.

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It could just be “a matter of weeks” before its “quite a while before” any student flies the F-35.

In other words we only have a few short weeks before we can really start the waiting for the aircraft at Eglin to be used. On the other hand he’s been wrong before and perhaps it will be many months before we can start the waiting.

What a farce — they haven’t even managed to test the syllabus the aircraft are so broken. They should send the turkeys back to the factory not pretend that they are anywhere near being ready for training .

I have read so much about the “A,B, and C” models of the F-35; but how about a two-seater? Is there going to be such an animal?

What’s with the bitterness? With 9 countries, hundreds of scientists/engineers and thousands of technicians working on what could be the next best fighter jets we have, one is certainly sure that they are smarter if not know a heck of a lot more than the armchair generals, or don’t they?

Part 1. Not bitter, just very disappointed. How about LM incompetence with this program? This plane shouldn’t have the fundamental problems it has — tail hook doesn’t work, fuel dump (for a fighter??) doesn’t work and wets the surface (a really bad thing for a carrier based airplane with CATS and TRAPS concurrently), helmet doesn’t work and without it pilot has no way of releasing a bomb, firing a missile, or shooting a gun (which oh by the way is external for the B and C versions due to overall basic airframe weight limitations), the onboard maintenance reporting system doesn’t work, afterburner use limited because of elevator skin can’t take the heat, wing root structural problem that will require at least a $30M overhaul per plane on at least 100 aircraft, and a DOTE reported but unidentified classified problem.

Part 2. I’m certain given what we know about this money pit of a plane, that there are many other problems that are not yet made public. I shudder for our nation if this is the best we can do. We wanted 200+ B-2s, bought 21; wanted 775 F-22s, bought 186; and the number of F-35s will come down for sure because of cost. And just how large is the weapon payload capability if we need to retain stealth — not much.

it carries 2 2,000lb JDAMS and 2 AIM-120 AMRAAMs or AIM-9Xs internally for stealth. If stealth isn’t needed, is can carry missiles and bombs on 6 external hardpoints and 1 centerline hardpoint. The helmet is being worked on, and if it goes horribly wrong, there is a functional backup that BAE Systems is ready to deliver. The VSI helmet is getting some huge upgrades and overhauls, and will be delivered in late 2012.

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