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F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Testing Program Ramps up at Nellis AFB | News

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F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Testing Program Ramps up at Nellis AFB

LAS VEGAS -- The sequester slashed tens of billions of defense dollars bringing testing of many new military technologies to a screeching halt.

Leaders at Nellis Air Force Base say they've felt the squeeze more than most, but say there are some programs still going strong, including the F-35.

"I remember the first time strapping into that thing and it's almost surreal," said Lt. Col. Derek J. O'Malley, commander, 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron.

Borrowing some of the best features of the F-16, F-18, A-10, and the hovering Marine Corps Harrier, the F-35 is fast, stealthy, and packs a punch.

"Fantastic to fly, very powerful, very maneuverable, easy to handle," Lt. Col O'Malley said.

His team is told what the jet should be able to do and their job is to push it to its limits.

"If you had an NFL football team with all the greatest players, if they didn't have a playbook they wouldn't be effective, so it's our job to take this platform and find out how we're going to use it," Lt. Col. O'Malley said.

Nellis is where they troubleshoot tactics. The squadron of 200 airmen began work on the F-35 earlier this year. They expect more delivered as the jet approaches war readiness.

Lt. Col. O'Malley says the jet is a leap forward in two ways. It's nearly invisible to radar and can almost think on its own. It computes data and suggests what the pilot should do.

"The F-35 would take all the pieces of the puzzle for me and right there in my display, in a very easy to access way, tell me what I'm fighting and how to counter it," he said.

The F-35 also requires a pilot to wear a new kind of helmet. It connects to cameras on the outside making it possible to melt away blind spots. The pilot can essentially to see through the walls of the aircraft.

The F-35 is expected to be fully operation Dec. 2016. Its main function will be air-to-ground attacks