Eglin Prepares for First Day of F-35 School

With last week’s arrival of the second F-35A at Eglin AFB, Fla., the joint-service F-35 Integrated Training Center there is gearing up for the first regular pilot training course to begin next January, according to officials with the 33rd Fighter Wing that oversees the nascent schoolhouse. “We see ourselves as the beginning of the future for F-35,” said Marine Col. Arthur Tomassetti, 33rd FW vice commander, during a teleconference with reporters last week. “This is where everything will start.” Pilots and maintainers will begin limited ground operations with the first two F-35s over the summer. The F-35 force at Eglin is expected to grow to five F-35As by the fall, and one Marine Corps F-35B by December. In October, the training center will conduct a 12-week operational utility evaluation, including six weeks of flight operations with the planned training syllabus in preparation for the first regular class. “If the OUE goes as planned, those pilots who go through that will actually come out of that evaluation as fully qualified instructors,” said Col. Andrew Toth, 33rd FW commander. The inaugural class next January is slated to train roughly 30 US aviators.