F-35 flies first training sortie at Luke AFB

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Senior Airman Paul Swanson marshals in a F-35 Lightning II after one of its first sorties May 5, 2014, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Swanson is a 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jason Colbert)

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (AFNS) --

An F-35 Lightning II took to the sky over the West Valley here, May 5, in what was the first local training sortie for the fifth-generation fighter jet.

The jet is currently the only F-35 at Luke Air Force Base  with additional jets expected to arrive within the next few weeks.

"The ability to conduct local flight operations demonstrates the commitment by thousands of individuals who have worked to make this a reality," said Lt. Col. Michael Ebner, the 61st Fighter Squadron commander. "Our first sortie this week represents a significant milestone in the F-35 program at Luke (AFB)."

There are currently six F-35 pilots assigned to the 61st FS. There will eventually be approximately 30 pilots by the time the squadron is up to full capacity.

The 61st FS coordinates with the 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit, which maintains the aircraft, to fly the jet when it is available -- which, as of this week, is approximately 1-2 times per day. That number could increase to 2-4 sorties a day by next month, when more jets are expected at Luke AFB, Ebner said.

Construction, much of which is sub-contracted locally, continues on base to prepare for the arrival of additional F-35s.

The Academic Training Center, which will house classrooms and 12 F-35 simulators, is under construction and is expected to be completed in late September. Construction is also underway on the combined Operations/AMU building for the second F-35 squadron.

Other projects, including the third Operations/AMU building, a maintainer training facility and a four-bay F-35 hangar are also in planning stages.

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