An Update from Eglin on the Arrival of the F-35


07/17/2011 Col. Arthur Tomassetti provided an update on July 15, 2011 regarding the F-35 at Eglin, the day after the F-35A arrived as an operational aircraft at Eglin. Col. Tomassetti is the vice commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing which serves as the home to the Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Training Center, providing pilot and maintenance training for nine international partners.

For earlier discussions with Col. Tomassetti please see

Col. Tomassetti in the F-35 Training Center Credit: SLD

SLD: We have talked and met before but we wanted a quick update on recent events and the way forward.

Col. Tomassetti: AF9 arrived yesterday a little after 1:00 local on its flight from Fort Worth. One of our pilots from the 58th Fighter Squadron was the pilot in command of that airplane.

We now have one of our pilots who has experience flying an F-35A on our team. He can start providing us good feedback and to start helping us as we go through the process now of preparing the trained pilots and maintainers. We will obviously be making sure that all the things we’ve been planning as the way to go forward actually makes sense now that he’s seen how the airplane really works.

We do have a second pilot already qualified, and that will get us through some of the events that go on this summer.

We will not start flying the airplanes right away here at Eglin.  We need to wait for some more flight tests to complete before we start flying the aircraft, so basically our plan over the summer is to use the airplanes in a ground capacity to do a variety of things.

That will be everything from certifying maintenance procedures to begin some hands on training for maintainers. Obviously, we will do modifications to the airplanes as anything becomes available for the airplanes that we have in the inventory.

We’ll have the pilots get in during the summer just for ground operations, things like turning the systems on with external power and up to and including starting the engine and low speed taxi.  All those things that will help us as we go into the beginnings of official pilot training and maintenance training later in the year.

SLD: How many planes do you expect this year?

Col. Tomassetti: We’ve been told to be prepared for up to nine by the end of the calendar year; six F-35As and three F-35Bs. As we get new information, we will adjust accordingly.

SLD: What is the significance of this event from your point of view, from all the preparation you’ve been doing?

Col. Tomassetti: On a personal basis for me, it is exciting. I have been involved with the program from back in the late ’90s when it was just a concept on paper. I was then involved with the the concept demonstration flying of the X-35. To be in a position where I’m actually here to watch the first production airplane arrive at an operational facility is fantastic. It is a crucial point when something that’s not flight test aircraft has arrived at Eglin.  This is my no means the end, but definitely this is the beginning of the next chapter.

Personally I couldn’t have asked to be at any better place. I’m blessed the Marine Corps has considered me worthy to be here to be part of this, and I look forward to being able to start this next chapter off and get us off on the right foot.

This is the future.  This is where we want to be tomorrow, and that all starts with what we can achieve today.  And yesterday with the airplane arriving, we just gained a little bit more control of our own destiny here at Eglin.  We are more able to shape that future and get to that place we want ourselves to be.

We have two pilots of ours that are checked out right now and one of those is a Marine.  And I would expect next week, the way the schedule is going to fill out, he may actually ferry one of the Air Force airplanes in here.  This is a joint training facility and that would certainly underscore the point.

SLD: As a Harrier pilot, could you comment on the potential arrival of the F-35Bs?

Col. Tomassetti: It is ultimately disappointing constantly to see in the news all of the things that the F-35B hasn’t been able to achieve yet or can’t do and people completely missing what we’ve already achieved.

The fact is that we have a STOVL airplane that every pilot who has flown it says that it’s easy to fly. In 60 years of trying to build jet airplanes and do this, we’ve never ever been there before.  We’ve never had a STOVL airplane that was as full spectrum capable as it’s conventional counterparts.  We’ve never done that before in 60 years of trying.

It’s an amazing engineering achievement; we’ve already accomplished is completely being missed by some observers.