Eglin becomes ‘center of the universe’ for F-35 training

F-35 nwfdn

An F-35 takes off from Eglin Air Force Base.

File Photo | Northwest Florida Daily News
Published: Friday, January 4, 2013 at 05:48 PM.

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE — 2012 was the year the F-35 finally took off at Eglin Air Force Base.

Not only did the military’s newest fighter jet soar into the sky over Eglin for the first and then the 700th time, but the 33rd Fighter Wing continued to ramp up its training center to become the hub for everyone learning to fly or maintain the plane.

“I think overall as a whole it was an outstanding year for the 33rd Fighter Wing and all the men and women and the accomplishments we had,” said Air Force Col. Andrew Toth, commander of the wing.

Although controversy over cost and production setbacks have plagued the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program for many years, the joint-command wing at Eglin finally was able to meet several significant milestones in 2012.

A pilot took off in an F-35 for the first time March 6. Since then, pilots have taken 739 flights, moving the jet from test flight mode to operational capacity, said Marine Col. Art Tomassetti, vice commander of the 33rd.

The base received its first Marine Corps variant, the F-35B, which was designed for short takeoff and vertical landing, early in 2012. The Marines then shipped off a crew to stand up their first F-35 operational unit in Yuma, Ariz., in November.

The first international students, from the United Kingdom, also started academic training this fall to fly and maintain their own aircraft.

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