US Air Force (USAF) personnel have started the operational utility evaluation (OUE) of the Lockheed Martin-built F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, US.

Expected to last around 65 days, the OUE will be conducted by two pilots from the 33rd Fighter Wing (33rd FW) together with two USAF test pilots.

Data from all aspects of JSF training, including maintenance, classroom, simulator and flights will be collected during the stringent testing, which will serve as a precursor to training other services and allies.

33rd Fighter Wing commander colonel Andrew Toth said the wing had been readying for the OUE, since the arrival of the first aircraft in July 2011.

"We are ready for the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center to give us an outside look on the way we conduct our mission," Toth said.

"At the conclusion of the evaluation we should receive the Air Education and Training Command’s approval that states we are ‘ready’ for training."

Primarily responsible for providing F-35 pilot and maintainer training, the 33rd FW has so far accomplished over 200 basic F-35 exercises, involving both A and B variants, to help improve pilot and maintainer familiarity with JSF, exercise logistics infrastructure, simultaneously growing aircraft maturity.

A total of 11 experienced fighter pilots participated in the basic F-35A flight tests, since February 2012’s Military Flight Release. The pilots are aiming to become the military’s first cadre for the JSF aircraft.

Around 59 aircraft and three flying squadrons, one for each service/aircraft variant, are scheduled to be initially set up at Eglin.

The F-35 Lightning II is a single-engine, fifth generation multirole fighter, currently under development to conduct ground attack, reconnaissance, and air defence missions with stealth capability.

Image: USAF’s first F-35A JSF on the way to Eglin AFB in Florida, US. Photo: courtesy of US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago.