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

Published: Friday, January 4, 2013 at 05:48 PM.

The year culminated earlier this month with a visit from Air Force Gen. Edward Rice, who gave the school the official go-ahead to start graduating Air Force pilots and maintainers next year.

The program also grew dramatically at Eglin in 2012.

On Jan. 1, six Air Force variants of the plane, the F-35A, were parked in hangars. At year’s end, the fleet has grown to 22 planes: nine F-35As and 13 F-35Bs, including two UK jets.

About 26 pilots and 500 maintainers went through the program at the training center.

The program will continue to expand in 2013, Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the new head of the nation’s Joint Strike Fighter program, said during a visit to Eglin earlier this month.

“We are on a very, very large growth path at Eglin here,” Bogdan said. “As a hub for maintenance and, at least for now, for pilots, this is the center of the universe for the F-35 in terms of training. This is stop one on the road to an F-35 capability.”

The 33rd Fighter Wing should double its fleet of jets and the number of pilots and maintainers going through the program next year, Toth said.

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