NEW DETAILS: Top Military Pilots Grounded By F-35 Mess - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

NEW DETAILS: Top Military Pilots Grounded By F-35 Mess

MSNBC.COM - The best fighter pilots from the Air Force, Marines and Navy arrived in the Florida Panhandle last year to learn to fly the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive, most advanced weapons program in U.S. history. They are still waiting.

Concerns about the stealth jets' safety, cost overruns and questions about the entire program's feasibility have delayed the training and left about 35 pilots mostly outside the cockpit. The most the pilots do with the nine F-35s at Eglin Air Force Base is occasionally taxi them and fire up the engines. Otherwise their training is limited to three F-35 flight simulators, classroom work and flights in older-model jets. Only a handful of test pilots get to fly the F-35s.

"The most-frustrated pilot is one who isn't flying at all," said Marine Col. Arthur Tomassetti, vice commander of the fighter wing and a former test pilot for the F-35 prototype.

Built by Lockheed Martin under a 2001 contract, the F-35 is supposed to replace Cold War-era aircraft such as the Air Force's F-16 fighter and the Navy's and Marines' F/A-18 Hornet. It would also be sold to many NATO countries and other U.S. allies.

Costing between $65 million and $100 million each, depending on the version, the F-35 is described as a generational leap from older fighter jets. A single-seat aircraft, it can fly at about 1,050 mph and, officials say, fight both air-to-air and air-to-ground significantly better than its predecessors.

One version can land on an aircraft carrier while another can hover, landing on and taking off from a helicopter carrier. It carries more fuel and more ordnance internally than older fighter jets, allowing it to maintain stealth, and has the latest onboard computer systems, allowing the pilot to control the plane and communicate with other aircraft and interact with ground commanders like never before.

"From a flying perspective, what we call the stick and rudder is the same for any platform, but when you integrate the sensors, the pilot has the capability to make much better decisions and be much more precise," said Air Force Col Andrew Toth, the training wing's commander. His name adorns one of the school's F-35s.

And because it is to be used by all three branches of the U.S. military that fly fighter jets and by U.S. allies, training and maintenance could be handled jointly. That's intended to save money compared to having separate, parallel maintenance and training groups in each force. click here to read the full story

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