The F-35 Program continues to grow and will for many years to come. As the U.S. Military and a number of other countries continue to put their future air power in the hands of this new fifth generation jet fighter; I am very confident the eyes of this country and around the globe will learn more and more about the Panhandle of Northwest Florida, and specifically Fort Walton Beach and Destin.
Seven F-35Cs should arrive at Eglin in April
By LAUREN SAGE REINLIE / Daily News
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 20:14 PM.
At last, but not least, the Navy should receive its first F-35 jets this spring at Eglin.
A production model of the F-35C, the Navy’s version of the military’s newest and most expensive stealth fighter jet, took to the sky for the first time last Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas. Lockheed Martin, the company that makes the planes, is set to deliver that jet and six others to Eglin Air Force Base the first weekend in April.
Their arrival will be a welcome sight for about 70 Navy F-35 pilots, maintainers and support staff at Eglin. Some have been on base for almost two years without a plane to fly or to work on as the arrival was pushed back.
“Everybody’s getting really excited about the opportunity to get their hands on the airplane,” said Navy Cmdr. John Enfield, who heads the Navy’s first joint strike fighter squadron, VFA-101, at Eglin. “Getting the airplane finally is going to be great for morale.”
It’s also going to nearly triple the size of the squadron.
Another 70 or 80 sailors are scheduled to arrive this year. F/A-18 jets should come this summer to fly along with the F-35s, and that will bring another 60 or 70 maintainers, Enfield said.
They all likely will be stationed at Eglin for three-year stints.
Eglin already has a fleet of 22 F-35s for the Marines and the Air Force. Both forces have started putting pilots through the schoolhouse there.
Navy maintainers work on other planes in the fleet. Pilots have been able to go through the Air Force’s academic training program and use their simulator software, but haven’t been able to get into any jets.
The F-35C is unique in that it’s made for landing on aircraft carriers. That means the wingspan is a little wider and the jet is designed to carry more fuel for longer flights. It also is a little slower so it can land in tighter spaces.
Landing on an aircraft carrier takes precision. A traditional runway is about 6,000 feet. On a carrier, the landing space is only 600 feet. Of that space, pilots really only have about a 3-foot by 3-foot window to drop the head of the plane on, Enfield said.
Steel arresting wires, usually about three on a ship, run across the landing space. A tail hook lowers from the bottom of the plane, and the pilot must put the jet down so the hook lands between the second and third wires.
The wire then drags out and stops the plane from going off the carrier into the water.
“The first time you do it its a little disconcerting when you realize you’ve got a 35,000-pound airplane and an inch-and-a-half steel cable and this little tail hook, and it all works together to stop the airplane,” Enfield said. “It’s pretty remarkable, actually.”
Because of the precision required, Navy pilots practice takeoffs and landings more than the other forces.
The ones at Eglin will practice at a relatively remote landing strip at Choctaw Field on the west side of Eglin’s reservation, Enfield said. They will circle for landing at 600 feet, much lower than the 1,600 feet landing pattern for the Air Force.
“You can imagine how loud these things are. If we were flying over Valparaiso at 600 feet, it probably wouldn’t endear our neighbors,” Enfield said.
Working with the Air Force and Marines at Eglin has been invaluable, Enfield said. They’ve been able to share information more easily than if they were at different locations.
For example, when the Air Force and Marines got their planes, there was a big learning curve: how they operate, what breaks, what doesn’t and basic procedures.
“We spent a lot of time writing down those lessons so we don’t have to learn them on our own,” Enfield said. “They did a lot of plowing the field and pulling all the rocks and tree stumps out for us.”
He said it is amazing to be at the forefront as a new aircraft is added to the Navy’s fleet. They are starting from ground zero and then leading the way for future generations, he said.
“I tell (them) ‘your son or daughter is going to come back and tell you if you did a good job or a bad job,' because what we do now is setting the standard for the Navy for the next 30 years,” he said.
With what they already have learned, Enfield said they should be able to take to the skies within a month after the jets arrive.
He said hopes to get a chance to fly one before he leaves for his next post later this year.