F-35A Sortie Milestone at Eglin

The integrated team of airmen, marines, and sailors at Eglin AB, Fla., on Tuesday launched the first F-35A sortie from the base since the Air Force last week cleared the F-35A for initial flight operations at the Florida installation, home of the first joint F-35 schoolhouse. “Our first sortie is truly a milestone for the program,” said Col. Andrew Toth, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing that oversees the schoolhouse. However, the operational check flight was abbreviated due to the pilot returning the aircraft to base 15 minutes into the planned 90-minute mission due to an “in-flight emergency” that may have been a fuel leak, said Eglin officials. “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,” said Toth. Still, “we met both objectives today: get the aircraft airborne and start local area operations,” said Lt. Col. Eric Smith, the Air Force’s first F-35 pilot. The wing is slowly building until it can initiate the F-35 training syllabus. (Eglin report by Chrissy Cuttita)