Three F-35I Adir fighter aircraft landed in Israel on Sunday, where they will join the stealth squadron of the Israel Air Force.
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The IAF took delivery of the first two F-35s in December and has been carrying out trial flights with the planes since then. The Israel Defense Forces hopes to have an operational F-35 squadron by the end of the 2017. The F-35s are also expected to take part in the IAF’s traditional Independence Day aerial display in May.
The IAF is expected to take delivery of several additional Adir airplanes over the course of the year, in addition to building a flight simulator for the squadron. In the meantime, IAF pilots have been traveling to the United States to practice on simulators there. One such trip took place around two weeks ago, with the goal of allowing the pilots to practice flying in extreme conditions and in emergencies.
“We practiced extreme safety incidents and exceptional mishaps, so that if we ever face such a situation we’ll know exactly what to do,” said Maj. D., the second in command of the F-35 “Golden Eagle” squadron, in an interview with the IAF website. Around half of the training hours on the F-35 are to take place on the ground, using a simulator, and not in flight.
Israel agreed to purchase 50 of the F-35 aircraft from Lockheed Martin, with the eventual goal of having two squadrons. Delivery of the first of the planes for the second squadron is not expected for another two years.
The F-35 came in for criticism during the design and manufacturing process, due to its high price as well as various problems. An IAF officer who was involved in the procurement process and who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that whereas in the first F-35 procurement deal, consisting of 33 planes, each plane cost around $100 million, in the deal signed in November for the purchase of 17 planes the per-unit cost dropped to around $85 million. The planes are purchased as part of the military aid agreement between Israel and the United States.