LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. — The 56th Fighter Wing flew its 1,000th F-35A Lightning II training sortie March 31, making it the fastest F-35 wing to reach the 1,000-sortie milestone in the Defense Department.
This is the second historic milestone in a two-week period. Before that, Luke’s first F-35 student sortie was flown marking a significant step forward for the Airmen at Luke in realizing its new mission — training the world’s greatest F-35 and F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter pilots. That student was the commander of the 56th Fighter Wing, Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, who is making the transition from the F-16 to the F-35.
The first official class of student pilots is scheduled to begin in May, at the Academic Training Center, a 145,000-square-foot, two-story training center.
“I’m extremely proud of the extraordinary work our maintainers are doing to ensure our pilots have mission-ready and safe jets,” Pleus said. “The F-35 is going to be the backbone of the Air Force’s fighter fleet for decades to come and Luke will play a vital role in producing the world’s greatest, most lethal F-35 pilots. With initial operational capability scheduled to occur late next year, it’s important that we get our training program and process dialed in and as efficient and refined as our F-16 training program is, so we can help meet the Air Force’s scheduled goal.”
Pleus also reflected on the years of work that have gone into the F-35 program, putting Luke in position to begin training in May.
“Getting to this point hasn’t just been accomplished over the past few months. It’s really been done over the last few years,” he said. “Lots of amazing Airmen who served before us here at Luke are the reason we are where we are with the F-35 program. What they did back then to set the base up is the reason why we will be so successful training the world’s greatest F-35 pilots.”
There are 20 F-35s assigned to Luke, two of which belong to the Royal Australian air force, an F-35 pilot training, partner nation.