The first of the 33 F-35 fighter aircraft purchased by the Israel Air Force was displayed to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and an Israeli delegation at a Lockheed Martin factory in Fort Worth, Texas on Wednesday.
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The state-of-the-art F-35, already nicknamed the Adir (Hebrew for mighty or glorious) in Israel, is considered the world's most advanced fighter aircraft.
The display of the aircraft is just the first step – albeit an important one – in a long process of manufacturing, quality control and transfer from the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, to the American government and from there to the Israeli government and the IAF.
For the first two aircrafts, that process will end when they land at the Nevatim air force base near Be'er Sheva on December 12. They will be flown from the United States to Israel by American pilots, with mid-air refueling over the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean.
When they take off again the following day, they will be piloted by the commander of the Adir Squadron, Lt. Col. Yotam, and one of the five other pilots who make up the founding members of the squadron, all experienced majors.
A "dream team" of six IAF pilots, all F-15 and F-16 veterans, is currently in the U.S. learning about the plane, though not flying it. Their training has included time in a sophisticated simulator.
Wednesday's ceremony was testimony to the strong fabric of the relationship between the IAF, the defense ministry and the Israeli defense industries and Lockheed Martin, which also manufactured the F-16 fighter and the S-130 transport plane, as well as with the F-35 administration program in the Pentagon and the U.S. Armed Forces.
The first F-35 aircrafts destined for use by the U.S. Armed Forces are currently being tested at bases in Arizona and Utah, prior to the official announcement of their air-worthiness by the U.S. Air Force, which is expected in about four months.
The first eight Israeli aircrafts are expected to enter service with the IAF in the fall of 2017.
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot recently accepted the recommendation of IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel that an additional 17 F-35s be purchased. By 2021, the IAF is expected to have two squadrons of F-35s, with 25 planes in each.
A third squadron, which will increase the F-35 force to 75 aircraft, is planned for the coming decade.
The factory purchase price of each aircraft is $85 million. The addition of sophisticated avionic systems once they arrive in Israel will increase their value by several million dollars.