Troops in Europe Getting Chance to ‘Fly’ F-35

Stars and Stripes // June 23, 2015

Troops at some bases in Europe are getting a rare glimpse inside an F-35 Lightning II cockpit, albeit from the stationary vantage point of a somewhat stripped-down unclassified simulator.

Lockheed Martin, the company producing the embattled fifth-generation fighter, is sponsoring the simulator tour to a handful of U.S. military installations in Europe, although the first planes are not due to arrive on the continent until 2020.

Airmen at Ramstein, including U.S. Air Forces in Europe–Air Forces Africa commander, Gen. Frank Gorenc, had the chance to “fly” the simulator Monday set up in a room at the Officers Club.

Since its inception in 2001, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has become the most expensive weapons program in Pentagon history at a price tag of so far more than $400 billion. Lockheed Martin and military leaders supporting the program tout its technological advances, saying it will give the U.S. military an edge in air superiority that’s slowly been eroding in recent years. But the program has been plagued by major design flaws and cost overruns, among other issues, and the jet has yet to test its operational mettle in combat.

Gorenc thanked the contractors, most of them former military fighter pilots, “for allowing our airmen not just to talk about it and to think about it, but to actually sit in it, and get a feeling for what it is that’s going to be delivered.”

Officials announced in January that RAF Lakenheath would be the first USAFE base to get the jets. The current plan calls for the base to eventually stand up two F-35 squadrons of 24 aircraft each, said Maj. Sheryll Klinkel, a USAFE spokeswoman.

Where else the plane may be assigned in Europe hasn’t been announced, she said.

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