Happy Tuesday, FighterSweep Fans! For this week’s milestone, we go back nine years to the first flight of the F-35 Lightning II. Love it or hate it, the F-35–in all of its variants–has covered a tremendous amount of ground in the past nine years, despite the cost overruns, delays, setbacks, and criticism.

We’ve all seen the reports: the engine fire, how the aircraft has been G-limited, how the gun doesn’t work, how it had its clock cleaned by a two-bag F-16D during Basic Fighter Maneuvers, how it’s too expensive and will never be able to perform like the A-10–the list goes on and on.

Even in just the past couple of weeks, significant events have occurred inside the program: The first foreign-built F-35 was delivered to the Italian Air Force; the first Japanese-built F-35 began its final assembly today; and the first F-35 pilot from the Royal Norwegian Air Force had his first flight at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

F-35 Lightning II
The flagship of the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah, sits under lights during the aircraft’s official arrival ceremony and unveiling in October. (Photo by Scott Wolff)

So whether you think the F-35 Lightning II is the best thing to happen to tactical aviation, or the worst aircraft idea ever devised by mankind, the jet is starting to hit its stride. The first combat-coded airplanes are flying sorties at Hill, the BFM envelope has been opened up to 7 Gs at Luke, and F-35s from all three services have enjoyed pretty tremendous success in Large Force Employment exercises.