Marine One

Meet J.T. Bachmann, the first USMC pilot to fly the Joint Strike Fighter.

Major J.T. Bachmann pulls off the gloves and grins after an engine run in the F-35A. (Lockheed Martin)

Marine Corps test pilot Major J.T. Bachmann recently became the first U.S. Marine, the second military test pilot, and the fifth person overall, to fly the new F-35 Lightning II, or Joint Strike Fighter. Although his flight, at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas factory, was in the Air Force F-35A, Bachmann will begin flying the F-35B, the Marine Corps variant, with a short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) capability, this summer at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. Since his 80-minute flight on March 19, Bachmann has flown the JSF one other time; he answered a few questions from Air & Space Associate Editor Mike Klesius about the experience.

Air & Space: Why did the Marine Corps have you fly the Air Force variant, rather than waiting for its own F-35B?

Bachmann: So far, with the exception of U.S. Air Force pilot Flipper Kromberg, who flew the airplane last year, the other three pilots have been corporate test pilots for Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems. They need a government pilot’s point of view. Basically, we’re the customer, the guys who are buying it. And all the models will fly similar to each other.

A&S: Do you have briefings from the corporate test pilots before flying the aircraft?

Bachmann: Definitely. I started training about two years ago. The dates slid left and right for a variety of reasons. Basically, it began with a set of specific simulator events, with a very experienced, very wise chief test pilot for Lockheed Martin named Jon Beesley. Then it was like Dad gives you the keys and takes you out and shows you the car. My first actual engine run was in December 2008. I did several engine runs, including a simple high-speed taxi test on the deck, high-speed takeoff run, a takeoff abort at 85 knots, etc. Jeff Knowles, another Lockheed Martin test pilot, and Graham Tomlinson, the BAE Systems test pilot, also trained me. Tomlinson is godfather of all things STOVL. When Graham was preparing for his June 2008 first flight in the F-35B [STOVL version], I prepared with him.

A&S: You’re an AV-8B Harrier pilot. Is the F-35 easier to fly than the Harrier?

Bachmann: Hands down, yes. And easier than other planes too. The only difficulty right now is a limited flight envelope, which is standard practice in the early stages of flight testing. Dad gave me the keys, and said I could only drive 55, and that’s it. I can’t drive it like I stole it.

A&S: What are the most aggressive maneuvers you've done in the F-35A since your first flight on March 19?

Bachmann: We’ve done basically a decent high-G turn, up to 4 G, pretty benign. Single maneuvers at 300 knots. Changing pitch, roll, or yaw, but never at the same time. Max airspeed has been 350 knots. Max altitude limit was around 20,000 feet. Then we ended up for weather and airspace going up to 18,000 feet that day.

A&S: How has flying the Harrier prepared you for the F-35A?

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