Tech. Sgt. Brian West watches an F-35 Lightning II approaches July 14, 2011, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Tail number 0747 is the Department of Defense's first operational F-35. West is an F-35 joint strike fighter crew chief. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)
A 33rd Fighter wing aircraft maintainer watches an F-35 Lightning II approaches July 14, 2011, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Tail number 0747 is the Department of Defense's first operational F-35. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)
Lt. Col. Eric Smith talks with his squadron and wing commanders July 14, 2011, after piloting the Department of Defense's first operational F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter to its new home at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)
7/15/2011 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- The Department of Defense's first F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter touched down at its new home here July 14, marking a major milestone in the nation's military history.
Upon arrival, the jet officially became part of the Air Force inventory. It now belongs to the JSF training unit, the 33rd Fighter Wing.
Flying it in was Lt. Col. Eric Smith of the 58th Fighter Squadron, the first Air Force qualified F-35 pilot.
"It was a smooth ride in," said the colonel of the hour and 40 minute flight. "The jet behaved awesomely. I'm just so proud to bring it home to Eglin (Air Force Base)."
A crowd of 33rd FW people braved the 90 degree heat to watch the fifth-generation fighter touchdown and taxi in. Col. Andrew Toth, the 33rd FW commander, was the first to greet his pilot upon arrival.
"It's an exciting day here at the wing where our joint and integrated team has been preparing for this day since October 2009," Toth said. "I have no doubt the caliber of the Airmen, Sailors, Marines and contractors will provide safe and effective training operations at Eglin (AFB). Now, we look forward to the start of classes later this year."
Now that the aircraft is on station, F-35 maintainers will train and be certified here at home.
"It's pretty exciting," said Tech. Sgt. Brian West, the crew chief for the new aircraft. "We're thrilled to be able to train with one of our own."
As the world's first multi-role stealth fighter, the F-35 is known for its superior range, cutting-edge avionics and next-generation sensor fusion. Each model shares breakthroughs in combat performance, survivability and support, while each is specifically tailored for unique service needs.
Lt. Col. J.D. Wilbourne, the 58th FS commander, said he was thrilled to see his first aircraft arrive, one day before his change of command.
"This is the best week ever," said the commander, who flew chase in an F-16 Fighting Falcon. "This aircraft ensures air dominance for the next 30 years, and today marks the first step toward that goal."
11/13/2012 10:41:04 PM ET I feel like the aircraft I serviced were relics after looking at the capabilities of the F-35 vs our old Douglas A-26 aircraft.
Stan Eden, L.I.New York
7/24/2011 1:14:40 PM ET P-40 to the F-35. My uncle 2nd Lt Richard Robb Cuthbert would be proud. I'm sure of his squadron's prominence. He was KIA, shot down in Tunisia January 14, 1943. He was a member of the 33rd Fighter Group, 58th Fighter Squadron and a member of The Jokers. Look it up.
7/23/2011 10:05:04 AM ET F-35 LOOKS COOL. I FLY A CHEROKEE-180 AND AM LOOKING TO TRADE UP. SHOULD BE AN EASY CHECK-OUT. HMM
T E MCKOWN, KMDD
7/20/2011 8:07:18 AM ET @umadbro: "...easily 10 years ahead of anything any other nation is developing." Now THAT's funny You obviously have been out in the sun too long. PLEASE do your research before making a comment like that. I understand that with you being at Eglin you have to drink the Kool-Aid but at least get your facts straight.
AF Capes Dude, Pentagon
7/20/2011 4:51:04 AM ET HUUUUAAAAAAAA
A1C SEIDL, Germany
7/19/2011 8:22:57 PM ET About the last statement in the article about 30 yr ensured air dominance...nothing is set in stone since there are air forces in other parts of the world developing their own fighters for their own motives with some pilots who may be on-par or better. In this day and age when everyone has access to tons of information, the motivation to Fly Fight and Win stays at the top of the list in every Airman in the USAF. So even if we do not have battle-tested 6th generation fighters from the time the first bullet is fired, they and the pilots who fly them will show their teeth.
F-Dizzle, Kadena AB JAPAN
7/19/2011 6:17:36 PM ET Haters -- they gonna hate. Technologically speaking, battle-tested or not, it's easily 10 years ahead of anything any other nation is developing. The jet is amazing. You're just jealous that it's in Florida and you're not. Keep shoveling that snow and pulling those cactus needles out of your shoes.
umadbro, 33 FW Eglin AFB
7/19/2011 4:57:38 PM ET Can't wait until it shows it worth just like the F-22. Then the AF will create another aircraft to spend money on.
Mc UT, Hill AFB
7/19/2011 4:06:09 PM ET Maybe it can join the F-22 on the list of things we don't use in the AF today.
7/19/2011 2:21:38 PM ET Very cool indeed. Wouldnt it be nice to be an operator just for one day in one of these? But unlike the dependable legacy jets they're replacing, not sure its convincing that these toys would be forward deployed anywhere anytime soon. I suppose posturing for air dominance should come with a hefty price.
7/19/2011 10:07:34 AM ET I don't know what you guys are talking about! I saw the F-35 shoot down a tractor trailer in Die Hard 4 and I'm pretty sure one of them bagged a Transformer too. Obviously these planes CAN perform. In all seriousness though, the people who know aviation know this plane is all kinds of capable. I for one can't wait to see what it does.
7/19/2011 10:00:44 AM ET Modernization is a key component to maintaining our tactical and strategic advantage over our enemies. Jets come before people. That's just a fact. When we put the personnel before our function we become no better than the government we support at the moment.
Mike, FE Warren AFB
7/19/2011 9:23:52 AM ET Hmmm..an over-priced jet that can't carry that many weapons and has limited range! Yep...the USAF is on top of their game. Our advesaries need not worry.
D. Herrernan, Queens NY
7/18/2011 4:46:33 PM ET The AF can afford these planes but want to cut out the airmen who work on them Yeah typical Military leadership.
7/18/2011 3:42:53 PM ET Geez Matt K. in Portland, give the airplane a chance. The first F-15 wasn't battle tested either and it turned out to be a pretty good fighter. The F-35 is gonna be just fine and will get a chance to prove itself someday. Relax buddy.
7/18/2011 3:14:39 PM ET Awesome, can't wait to see them in RAAF colours.
Adam, New South Wales Australia
7/18/2011 1:38:30 PM ET A non-battle tested airframe assures us nothing other than billions of tax dollars have finally produced something. Everyone ooohed and ahhhed when the F-22 debuted - where are they now? Oh right... grounded.
Matt K., Portland OR
7/18/2011 12:23:04 PM ET Awesome. A brand new lawn dart. It's so amazing that the crowd braved the 90 degree heat to watch a jet land. Its not like they stayed to refuel and inspect it. That statement was over the top.
A1C Prince, Davis-Monthan AFB
7/17/2011 5:50:43 PM ET I can't wait to see one of these flying overhead