1st UK flight on the F-35B
Frankie Buchler was like a little kid on Christmas Eve as he arrived at the tarmac at Eglin Air Force Base to take control of the F-35B JSF. Why ? He’s the first UK pilot to fly the aircraft as part of the reception deal. It’s not really big news, but still worth mentioning in a climax where the F-35 program is under scrutiny both for budget delirium and technical problems. It is nice to see that despite all these drawbacks, the program is still moving on. On 19 March at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, Squadron Leader Frankie Buchler piloted the fifth-generation multi-role stealth aircraft for the first time. The RAF pilot has been stationed at the Florida base since November last year undergoing intensive training on the JSF which will equip both RAF and Royal Navy squadrons in the future. Having previously undertaken a number of training sorties in a simulator, Sqn Ldr Buchler’s first solo concentrated on the subtle differences between the two and flying the aircraft in the airfield circuit. Speaking after his flight Sqn Ldr Buchler said: “It flies very smoothly. Nothing unexpected, it went pretty well.” That means the simulator was also very well designed. The RAF pilot, who has previously flown Jaguar and Typhoon, will now undertake a further five training sorties before receiving his initial qualifications which will in turn enable him to begin an instructor upgrade course. The first two UK F-35 Lightning II aircraft are based at Eglin and operate with the US Marine Corps who are also purchasing the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the aircraft. The F-35 features both advanced stealth technology and the speed and agility of a fighter. Combined with the aircraft’s technologically advanced sensors and its ability to operate from land or the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, F-35 will keep UK Defense at the cutting edge of military aviation.