The F-35 won’t land in Alaska for three years, but local military leaders are getting a preview of what to expect thanks to training exercise Northern Edge. It’s the first time the fifth generation fighter jet has flown in the Alaska exercise. A squadron of Marines are piloting the planes.

“The mountains up there are beautiful. It’s some of the best flying I’ve done,” said Major Adam Wellington, VMFA 121 Aviation Safety Officer. “These exercises are honestly my favorite flights in the airplane, large force exercises, because it really lets the plane stretch its legs and utilize its systems.”

The training is pushing the plane to its limits, while stressing the maintainers responsible for keeping it in the air.

“It’s still a fairly new aircraft, so, we’re still trying to figure out the best ways to do some of the maintenance and keep the mission systems running to the point where the pilots can use them effectively,” said Sergeant Andrew Berry, an avionics technician.

The Marines fly the F-35 “B” model, which has a lift fan allowing the plane to hover and do short take-offs and landings.

Two squadrons of F-35 “A” model aircraft are planned for Eielson Air Force Base. They don’t have a lift fan, but instead have more gas and expanded weapons capability, according to Wellington. Despite that slight difference, he said the training is helping lay the groundwork for the future Alaska squadrons.

“We can kind of talk back and forth about capabilities, limitations with each aircraft, and I have no doubt that the lessons learned in this exercise will be applied to future Northern Edges, as well as when the squadrons show up to Eielson,” said Wellington.

The Marines will be in Alaska through the end of May for some additional training. Northern Edge wraps up on Friday, May 12.

The F-35 squadrons are scheduled to land at Eielson in 2020 and 2021.

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