Lt. Col. Jared “Vic” Santos, 388th Fighter Wing special projects manager, recently became the first USAF Airman to accrue 1,000 flying hours in the F-35A Lightning II fighter jet, the wing announced.
Santos hit the milestone during an approximately two-hour, “four-on-six tactical intercept” training sortie Oct. 22 over the Utah Test and Training Range, according to a release.
Wing Commander Col. Steven Behmer heralded the moment as a victory for Santos, his wing, and the service at large.
“A relatively short time ago, the Air Force was standing this program up,” Behmer said in the release. “Now we’ve got our first 1,000-hour-pilot. Pilots like Vic are able to pass that experience on to younger pilots in the F-35 community. They are really going to get the best out of this jet, which is already very capable, and continuing to improve.”
But despite the accomplishment, Santos stayed humble.
“Hitting 1,000 hours doesn’t mean I’m special,” he said in the release. “It just means I’m old.”
The U.S. Air Force Academy alumnus piloted the F-15C and F/A-18 before starting his tenure with the Joint Strike Fighter at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., a time when Santos admitted the fifth-generation fighter still had a number of limitations.
“Back then we had block 1B software,” he recalled in the release. “We were constrained to .9 mach, 18 degree angle of attack, 5 Gs. We had no data link, either multi-function or Link 16.”
Witnessing the F-35 program’s evolution to its current state has “been exciting,” Santos added, noting that its stealth and sensors lend it “an edge.”
“The analogy I use is: I’m not a great boxer, but if you blindfolded my opponent and gave me a gun, I’d win every time,” he said in the release. “The stealth is the blindfold, the sensors and weapons are the gun, and combined they make the F-35 an outstanding weapons system.”