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December 07, 2011

Senators question F-35 pilot training safety

That pesky Sen. John McCain is at it again. McCain, R-Ariz. and his colleague, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have fired off a memo to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta telling him to make sure he's convinced the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is suitable and ready for pilot training.

Levin and McCain want Panetta to address the concerns by the Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation Michael Gilmore. In an Oct. 21 memo, Gilmore said there are “serious concerns” with commencing as early as November initial training at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, on the F-35. The Hill has a more detailed report.

Gilmore recommended a delay of as much as 10 months to fly the Lockheed Martin plane, 1,500 more hours on top of 1,000 already flown at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. by experienced test pilots.

Initially, the Air Force said it would hew to  plans to start training early in 2012. But as Sky Talk reported Tuesday, that seems to have changed. InsideDefense.com reports (pay-per-view) that Air Force Secretary Michael Donley has agreed with Gilmore that taking a slower approach to F-35 pilot training might not be a bad idea.

McCain, who has spent the week throwing darts at the F-35, may not be on the list of guests invited to Lockheed Martin CEO Bob Stevens Christmas and New Years Eve parties. The irascible senator, who helped outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates shoot down Lockheed's F-22 Raptor program, has been a constant critic of the F-35 over the last couple of years.


- Bob Cox




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