An Airman became the Guard's first F-35 Lightning II instructor pilot recently at Eglin's multi-service, multi-national F-35 Integrated Training Center.
Maj. Jay Spohn, assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing here as the assistant director of operations for the 58th Fighter Squadron and the chief of standards and evaluation for the 33rd Operations Group, successfully flew his final of six flights Aug. 3 becoming fully qualified and able to teach follow-on pilots to fly the F-35A.
"It felt really good," said Spohn about the flight. "It's what they hired me to do; today's flight was the culmination of two and a half years of hard work."
Spohn was selected in November, 2009 to be part of the initial F-35A cadre and help develop the syllabus for flight training. On March 6 the first F-35A flight took place at Eglin, with an F-35 instructor pilot at the controls.
Then on May 3, the wing was issued clearance to fly initial cadre "non-test" pilots, which opened the doors to the rest of 58th Fighter Squadron operators to begin qualifying as F-35A instructor pilots.
Being able to add more F-35A pilots to the ranks gives Spohn a sense of satisfaction.
"I think everyone feels that same excitement ... it feels good to be contributing," he said.
Spohn is scheduled to train another 58th FS pilot, Lt. Col. Michael Ebner on the same five instructional sorties and one check ride Spohn helped develop as initial cadre and then flew as a student of his own curriculum.
Along with getting a feel for how the aircraft handles and several approaches to the runway, Spohn's first flight included some touch and goes he said.
Cheering him on was Lt. Col. Randal Efferson, the other Florida National Guardsman assigned to the 33rd Operations Group.
"His stellar performance represented years of dedicated service and preparation," said Efferson. "The entire Air Force Reserve component is proud of Major Spohn's accomplishment."
The second and third flights included a lot of the same plus instrument approaches.
On the fourth flight, Spohn flew with a wingman. The formation flight can be with another F-35 or an F-16 as the support aircraft.
On the fifth flight, "the wingman and lead pilot switch roles and the IP (instructor pilot) verifies you can teach," he said. On the last flight, there is an evaluation that includes the student again assuming an instructor role, plus dozens of tasks now graded, like ground operations, take-off and departure to the air spaces, instrument approaches and post landing.
Spohn became the second non-test pilot qualified in the F-35A for the 58th, but the third overall since the squadron recently qualified a Defense Contract Management Agency Marine Corps member from Lockheed Martin, Ft. Worth, Texas, to be able to perform F-35A acceptance flights on behalf of the government, said Efferson.
Spohn is truly embedded in this active-duty flying wing, said Lt. Col. Lee Kloos, commander of the 58th who flew as Spohn's evaluator. But being a guard member is of no consequence for performance.
"He's up to the task to train our next pilots," said Kloos. "In fact, being in the guard was not even a consideration or thought. Recently Spohn was key in the success of the wing receiving an excellent in our unit compliance inspection."
In the near future Spohn will be immersed in a coalition environment as well at the training campus.
Spohn will soon be sharing the skies not only with the U.S. Marines and Navy but the British and Dutch as well and he said he looks forward to training with the partner nations.
"It is always a tremendous opportunity, both personally and professionally, to train with pilots that have a different background than you," said Spohn. "I hope my A-10 and F-15C background allows me to bring something unique to the table that will make the Dutch students better and I know that their vast fighter experience will make me a better IP and F-35 pilot."
And that forward-looking attitude seems to be the right stuff for Spohn having been hand-selected for the F-35A team.
"The success of Major Spohn is proof of years of effort put into our current F-35 program," said Toth. "We have a lot of confidence in the training systems and we have a lot of confidence in him. In fact, he'll soon be helping to train me in qualifying in our nation's fifth-generation fighter jet."