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First F-35 arrives at Eglin

F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter crew chief, Tech. Sgt. Brian West, watches his aircraft approach for the first time at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., July 14.  Aircraft 0747 is DoD’s newest aircraft.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

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 maintainer watches as the first F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter taxis in to its new home at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., July 14.  (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, of the 58th Fighter Squadron, talks with his squadron and wing commanders after piloting the first F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter to its new home at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., July 14. (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.)

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."

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