The IAF announced on Wednesday the arrival of the F-35I test version at the Flight Test Center (FTC) at Tel-Nof Air Force Base. The aircraft will be used to test out new weapons, sensors and other configurations for Israel’s specialized version of the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter.
Tel-Nof commander Brig. Gen. Oded Cohen said in an IAF news release the “historic event” was “a meaningful corner stone in the IAF's inauguration and development of the F-35 division.”
"To the FTC Squadron personnel - the absorption of the 'Adir' poses new challenges. I have no doubt that by virtue of your skill and professional spirit you will know, as you have proven in the past, how to challenge the limits of the 'Adir's' capabilities, and lead the IAF through toward new horizons,” he added.
FTC squadron commander Lt. Col. Y noted in the release that unlike other aircraft, the IAF has never been allowed to totally modify the F-35 at will, meaning the ability to test out what works best on the aircraft will be of paramount importance.
“The experimental F-35I will act as the main building block for acquiring new flight capabilities, and allow for independent installation of munitions,” he said.
In August, the IAF announced its second squadron of F-35I fighters was combat-ready. The force will eventually receive 50 aircraft from Lockheed Martin. In May, the IAF said it was dropping an older F-16I Sufa squadron in order to focus on modernizing the force with more F-35Is.