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Nellis AFB pilots fly their first operational F-35 mission

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Benjamin Bishop, 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron director of operations, inspects the exhaust of an F-35A Lightning II before a training mission April 4, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The F-35A is assigned to the 422nd TES and its modern engine delivers more than 60 percent more thrust than other aircraft of the same weight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Benjamin Bishop, 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron director of operations, inspects the exhaust of an F-35A Lightning II before a training mission April 4, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The F-35A is assigned to the 422nd TES and its modern engine delivers more than 60 percent more thrust than other aircraft of the same weight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Brad Matherne, 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron pilot, conducts pre-flight checks inside an F-35A Lightning II before a training mission April 4, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The F-35A will be integrated into advanced training programs such as the USAF Weapons School, Red Flag and Green Flag exercises. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

Capt. Brad Matherne conducts pre-flight checks inside an F-35A Lightning II before a training mission April 4, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The F-35A will be integrated into advanced training programs such as the USAF Weapons School, Red Flag and Green Flag exercises. Matherne is a 422nd TES pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Brad Matherne, 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron pilot, views flightline activity inside an F-35A Lightning II before a training mission April 4, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 422nd TES will design the tactics for the F-35A. The squadron will also determine how to integrate the F-35A with other aircraft in the Air Force inventory. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

Capt. Brad Matherne views flightline activity inside an F-35A Lightning II before a training mission April 4, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron will design the tactics for the F-35A. The squadron will also determine how to integrate the F-35A with other aircraft in the Air Force inventory. Matherne is a 422nd TES pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alexander Orchard, 57th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, crouches underneath the exhaust of an F-35A Lightning II before a training mission April 4, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The F-35A is assigned to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron and maintained by the 57th AMXS Lightning Aircraft Maintenance Unit. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

Senior Airman Alexander Orchard crouches underneath the exhaust of an F-35A Lightning II before a training mission April 4, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The F-35A is assigned to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron and maintained by the 57th AMXS Lightning Aircraft Maintenance Unit. Orchard is a 57th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron taxis down the runway before a training mission April 4, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 422nd TES will design the tactics for the F-35A. The squadron will also determine how to integrate the F-35A with other aircraft in the Air Force inventory. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

A F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron taxis down the runway before a training mission April 4, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 422nd TES will design the tactics for the F-35A. The squadron will also determine how to integrate the F-35A with other aircraft in the Air Force inventory. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS) -- Two F-35A Lightning IIs assigned to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron here conducted the aircraft's first operational flights from Nellis AFB.

These historic flights came less than a month after the March 19 arrival ceremony for the aircraft, but members of the 57th Maintenance Group's Lightning Aircraft Maintenance Unit and the 422nd TES have prepared for years to make the transition of the F-35A to Nellis AFB a smooth one.

"It's been a long time coming, and the level of effort by all those involved with getting to this point has been nothing short of astounding," said Capt. Brad Matherne, the 422 TES F-35 division commander, and one of the first pilots to conduct this operational flight at Nellis AFB. "Now we can get down to the business of what Nellis (AFB) does best; the development of tactics."

The successful flight does not begin or end with the pilots, said Lt. Col. Benjamin Bishop, the 422nd TES director of operations, and the other pilot to conduct the first operational flight from Nellis AFB. It was the maintenance team who mastered a complex new airframe, and worked overtime to ensure it was ready for flight.

"The fact they were able to accept the aircraft and get them into the air so quickly is astonishing," Bishop said. "These jets are new to Air Combat Command, so they are literally writing the book on many of the procedures used to maintain the aircraft."

"All the training and preparation over the last two years have been for this day," said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Prah, the LAMU superintendent. "Getting the aircraft in the air shows the hard work our maintenance Airmen have put forth in order to bring this new capability to Nellis (AFB)."

This mission also signified the beginning of a new chapter in the storied history of Nellis AFB.

During the F-35 arrival ceremony, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Lofgren, the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center commander, noted that live flying the aircraft over the Nevada Test and Training Range is only the first step in integrating the F-35 into operations here.

A simulator is also being constructed on Nellis AFB to test and develop tactics for advanced training. Together with continued operational flights, Air Force officials will begin to see how the Lightning II reacts to realistic enemies in real-world operations.

The Air Force plans to assign 20 more F-35s to Nellis AFB by 2020.

"This is the future of airpower," Bishop said. "I am honored be a part of the team that will write the tactics, techniques and procedures F-35 pilots will use in the years to follow."

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