Air Force has its First F-35 Instructor Pilot

Lt. Col. Eric Smith is the first Air Force pilot certified to fly the F-35 strike fighter. He’s also USAF’s first F-35 instructor pilot. The former A-10 and F-16 test pilot is now assigned to Eglin AFB, Fla., where he is operations director for the 58th Fighter Squadron, a component of the 33rd Fighter Wing that oversees the joint F-35 schoolhouse there. In this role, Smith will oversee flight operations for the initial F-35 pilot cadre. “I’m extremely thrilled to be honored as the first Air Education and Training Command F-35 instructor pilot,” he said. “It means a lot to me, but more for the 33rd FW [that] can now execute the training plan they have been working on for two years. We have a great team and will soon begin training F-35 pilots and maintainers.” F-35 student pilots will receive about 200 hours of academics, conduct 14 simulator missions, a high-speed taxi test, and six flights in the airplane before they are qualified to fly. (Eglin report by Chrissy Cuttita)