Air Force Lieutenant Colonel James Kromberg prepares for yesterday's flight of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at the Lockheed-Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas. With the test flight, Kromberg became the first military pilot to fly the new strike aircraft (USAF photo).
The Joint Service Strike Fighter (JSF) marked a major milestone milestone yesterday, with a military pilot taking it aloft for the first time.
Air Force Lieutenant Colonel James Kromberg piloted the F-35 during a short flight near the Lockheed-Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas, where the JSF is assembled.
"I have been smiling since arriving at the aircraft this morning and haven’t stopped," Kromberg said on the day of the flight, according to an Air Force press release.
Kromberg’s initial test flight put the JSF through takeoff, handling qualities maneuvers, engine throttle transients, formation maneuvers with an F-16 and landing.
He took off from the Fort Worth plant at 11:54 a.m. Central Time, flew to 6,000 feet and checked handling qualities at a 15-degree angle of attack, the release said. He then climbed to 10,000 and 12,000 feet, assessing the up-and-away flight-control response.
Kromberg, whose call sign is "Flipper," also tested the F-35’s engine performance and formation-flying characteristics.
"The aircraft was responsive across all flight regimes," he said. "The engine thrust response was excellent — accelerating very quickly. The aircraft was very stable during formation flight."
While Lt Col Kromberg has been a member of the JSF test team since 2005, he took a rather unusual route in becoming the first military pilot to fly the F-35. According to Air Force Times, Kromberg served as a Marine pilot from 1987-2003 before transferring to the USAF.
During his days in the Marine Corps, Kromberg logged thousands of hours in the AV-8B Harrier, experience that will serve him well in flying the F-35, which will have a short takeoff/vertical takeoff and landing (STOVL) variant among its various models.
While interservice transfers are not uncommon, it is a bit unusual to see someone make the switch relatively late in their careers. Still, Colonel Kromberg’s experience as a fighter pilot and test pilot (he is a graduate of both the Marine Corps Weapons School and the Air Force Test Pilot program) makes him ideally suited for the F-35 program.
Flight testing of the Lightning II will continue later this spring at Edward AFB, California, where Kromberg serves as Director of Operations for the 461st Flight Test Squadron. Eventually, the U.S. and its allies hope to build more than 1,000 of the multi-role strike aircraft.