A US Air Force (USAF) F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) has successfully carried out the first local training flight over the Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona, US.
Tail numbered LF 5031, the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant is currently the only F-35 at the air base, and is expected to be joined by additional fifth-generation fighters in the next few weeks.
61st Fighter Squadron (61st FS) commander lieutenant colonel Michael Ebner said the first training sortie represents a significant milestone in Luke AFB's F-35 programme.
"The ability to conduct local flight operations demonstrates the commitment by thousands of individuals who have worked to make this a reality," Ebner said.
With currently six pilots, the 61st FS works with the 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit (61st AMU), which maintains the F-35 fighters, to fly the aircraft approximately one to two times each day.
The number is likely to increase to two to four sorties a day by next month, with the arrival of additional jets at the airbase, according to Ebner.
Meanwhile, the base is continuing preparation for the arrival of more F-35s, with the construction of the Academic Training Center, which will house classrooms and 12 F-35 simulators, and the combined Operations/AMU building for the second F-35 squadron.
In addition to this, planning is also underway for other projects, including the third Operations/AMU building, a maintainer training facility, and a four-bay F-35 hangar.
A total of 144 F-35s are expected to be assigned to Luke AFB for a total of six squadrons.
Manufactured by Lockheed Martin in three variants, the F-35 JSF is a fifth-generation multi-role fighter aircraft designed to conduct an array of ground attack, reconnaissance and air defence missions with stealth capability.
Image: An F-35 Lightning II JSF at Luke Air Force Base after one of its first sorties. Photo: courtesy of USAF Senior Airman Jason Colbert.