by DAVID AXE
Yesterday the Air Force officially cleared its pilots to begin formal training on the military’s small fleet of early-model F-35A Joint Strike Fighters. The clearance followed a 46-day examination of the new plane’s systems at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. “The team at Eglin went through a rigorous process to lead the way for F-35A training,” said Gen. Edward Rice, the head of Air Education and Training Command.
Prior to Rice’s go-ahead, only test pilots had flown the slowly-growing fleet of so-called “fifth-generation” F-35s stationed at Eglin and at bases in Arizona, California and Maryland. There are three versions of the jet: the Air Force’s lightweight F-35A, the Marines’ vertical-landing F-35B and the larger, heavier Navy F-35C meant for at-sea carrier ops.
But the green light for training doesn’t mean the stealth fighter – which costs $105 million a copy not counting development — will be ready for combat anytime soon. Indeed, the Air Force still hasn’t officially decided when it will declare its JSFs operable, although 2018 has been mentioned.