The US Air Force is now at its minimum number of 12 Lockheed Martin F-35A fighters with completed modifications.  The first F-35A squadron is nearing initial operating capability (IOC).

It’s has been a long time coming for the Air Force version of the F-35A.  However, it appears the USAF version of the Joint Strike Fighter could see IOC within the next few months.  The USMC declared IOC on their B variant last year.  The final version, the US Navy F-35C model, will likely not be IOC ready until next year if everything goes to plan.

F-35As assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill AFB, Utah, are expected to be the first squadron with IOC capability.  The service has targeted from 1 August until 31 December of this year. You can bet they will work to be as early as possible on that timeline.

The jet required modifications to its fuel tank.  Test results from the F-35A found that air can enter the siphon fuel tank.  This could potentially cause the tank to over-pressurise and rupture in-flight. The multi-million dollar fighter was restricted to only 3G’s with a full load of fuel.  Only once a burn down of less than half a tank was completed could the jet fully maneuver at 7G’s.

The F-35A still has a few major hurdles to accomplish.  Aircrew and maintenance teams need to be trained up to operational standards using a fully capable aircraft.  Additionally, a specific set of ordnance, both air-to-air and air-to-ground, must be loaded along with performing a specific set of missions.

You can read the full article by Steve Trimble here.

Top Photo Credit: Lt. Col. George Watkins, 34th Fighter Squadron commander, drops a GBU-12 laser-guided bomb from an F-35A at the Utah Test and Training Range Feb. 25, 2016. The 34th FS is the Air Force’s first combat unit to employ munitions from the F-35A. (JIM HASELTINE/U.S. Air Force)