News: Air Force celebrates JSF arrival, unveils nation’s airpower future
Story by Samuel King
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - An official unveiling of the F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter was labeled as a “historic occasion” by Air Force officials hosting the ceremony Aug. 26 at the 33rd Fighter Wing.
“This is indeed a new era,” said Gen. Edward Rice, Air Education and Training Command commander and host of the milestone event.
This aircraft was developed in a span of only 15 years, one-eighth of the 118 total years we have had powered flight, he said. The F-35 brings advanced technological capabilities for the future and our nation’s defense – something the general explained was clearly unimaginable when Orville and Wilbur Wright performed their maiden flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., Dec. 17, 1903.
On display for the ceremony, surrounded by lighting effects, was tail number 747, known as Lockheed Martin AF-9. It was delivered here July 14 by the Air Force’s first JSF pilot, Lt. Col. Eric Smith. The fanfare that welcomed both the jet and congratulated its driver repeated July 20 when Marine Maj. Joseph Bachmann delivered the second F-35.
“While this celebration is taking place in the Air Force hangar with the Air Force variant of the F-35, this is really a story about the fully integrated team of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, industry and community partners who have been working years to make this day possible,” said Col. Andrew Toth, 33rd FW commander. “In fact, Marine Col. Art Tomassetti, my vice, MC, and test pilot, has been with this program for more than a decade. So, some of us have been awaiting a long time to see this day.”
Echoing the history theme, the colonel gave a brief history of the wing from its first days as the 33d Pursuit Group in 1941 to the war-decorated F-15 operational unit it was just before it transitioned to AETC in 2009. During the past two years, the integrated and multi-service team “Nomads” transformed their corner of Eglin into the Department of Defense’s F-35 Integrated Training Center complete with a university setting where maintainers are expected to live, work and train alongside pilots in operating the fifth generation stealth fighter.
Other guest speakers included Larry Lawson, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and Sen. Don Gaetz. They shared like-messages of the partnership their communities share with the wing in making the Emerald Coast a premier location for the next generation of aviation professionals.
More than 400 guests watched the JSF unveiling inside the newly constructed Air Force hangar, a place where a future generation of F-35 maintainers, pilots and leaders will learn their craft.
“Eventually about 2,200 maintainers and 100 pilots a year will pass through our schoolhouse doors,” said Toth. “In 2014, the program should mature enough to have the Air Force send students fresh from basic training.”
Delivery and success of the new program required a great number of challenges the Air Force overcame and will continue until the F-35 capabilities reach their full potential for the interest of national security, said Rice.
“But with all the wonders of technology and the amazing physical performance of the F-35, let me say that none of this happens without magnificent people,” he said.
Wing leadership said they’ve already begun to reap the benefits of multi-service collaboration in co-located facilities.
“What this aircraft behind me is a visual representation of our exciting future,” said Toth. “The 33d Pursuit Group of the past is nothing like the 33rd FW of today, except in the longstanding spirit of air power. With the F-35 program, we foresee air dominance for our services and partner nations for the next 30 to 50 years and the Nomads stand ready to provide ‘fire from the clouds’ anytime, anywhere!”