First USAF F-35 training mission cut short

The first US Air Force F-35A Lightning II training sortie had to be cut short.

March 8: The first US Air Force F-35A Lightning II training sortie had to be cut short as the aircraft developed a fuel leak, admitted a spokesman for the service.

The sortie on March 6 from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida was supposed to last 90 minutes and was scheduled to be an operational flight check, but was terminated after 15 minutes when the pilot, Lt Col Eric Smith, declared an emergency and returned to base.

“Our first sortie is truly a milestone for the programme,” said Col Andrew Toth, 33rd Fighter Wing commander. “Unfortunately things happen. We didn’t want it to happen today, but we were prepared. Our pilot did the exact right thing in returning the jet back to Eglin. Although there were issues we are doing whatever we can to move the programme forward safely and effectively.”

“We met both objectives today; get the aircraft airborne and start local area operations,” said Lt Col Smith. He was the air force’s first F-35 pilot to test the aircraft at Edwards AFB in California. “Our team did the most conservative thing by deciding to bring the plane back. We trained for this many times in the simulator for this exact reason.”

Maintainers had been preparing for today’s launch with engine runs and taxi operations for approximately eight months since the aircraft began arriving at Eglin last summer.

The 33rd FW is preparing for an anticipated 2,200 students a year and 900 “on campus” at any given time at full capacity. “We will continue to make steady progress towards our goal of standing up a world-class training program at Eglin,” said General Edward Rice Jr, commander of AETC, who approved F-35 flight operations to begin shortly after the Air Force Aeronautical Systems Center awarded an airworthiness certificate to the service for the F-35A.

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