First Two F-35 Pilots on Tap

The Air Force has selected two F-16 pilots stationed at Luke AFB, Ariz., as members of its initial cadre of pilots to transition to the new F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. Lt. Col. Stephen Pieper, 310th Fighter Squadron director of operations, will serve as an F-35 squadron commander, and Maj. Chad Lewis, 56th Operations Support Squadron assistant director of operations (weapons and tactics) will be one of the first JSF instructor pilots. The Air Force will select another eight pilots to serve as IPs along with Pieper and Lewis, who will learn to fly the F-35 from the test pilots in the new program and then, in turn, teach the next F-35 IPs. “This initial qualification training will take approximately two to three months,” said Lewis, and added: “Once we’re qualified, we’ll be responsible for training the next pilot in line. The United States Air Force plans to buy more than 1,700 of these aircraft, so we have a lot of pilots to train. The service is drawing the initial cadre of JSF pilots from its A-10, F-15E, and F-16 communities. (Luke report by SrA. Tong Duong)