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EGLIN AFB, Fla. — A brand new F-35 with additional capabilities landed Monday afternoon.

The new jet marks the beginning of a significant ramping up of Air Force training at the F-35 schoolhouse and an increase in some capabilities for the program.

The Air Force’s 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base is set to receive an additional 13 of the new F-35s, known as Block 2 aircraft, by the end of the year.

“It’s exciting,” said Lt. Col. Lee Kloos, the squadron’s commander. “We haven’t had a new aircraft in this squadron for about nine months. We’re at that point where we’re expanding again.”

The squadron already has nine limited-capability versions of the F-35 that it has been using to train an initial cadre of about 12 instructor pilots and some development and test pilots.

Now, Kloos said the foundation is set and the squadron is ready for a period of rapid growth, which will require more aircraft.

The squadron plans to train 45 pilots by the end of the year.

The F-35 is the military’s newest stealth fighter jet. Students from all military branches who are learning to fly the plane go through the schoolhouse at Eglin, including some from international services.

Eglin’s first Block 2 jet includes some improvements over the first batches of planes. The F-35 is still in development stages and the actual flight training has been limited by the lack of capability in the early versions.

While a few of the improvements are related to design, the biggest difference is the new software, Kloos said.

Pilots for the first time will be able to begin using the state-of-the-art distributed aperture system, a series of six sensors embedded in the skin of the F-35 that provides a complete spherical view around the jet, day or night.

The sensors — essentially infrared cameras with the ability to detect heat and other sensory information — are embedded in the front, sides and back of the F-35. When the pilot uses the system, it’s as if the walls of the plane are been stripped away; there are no visual restrictions.

The system doesn’t exist in any of the military’s previous fighter jets, Kloos said.

“This is one of the unique systems that is going to make a big difference for the F-35,” he said. “It will always be monitoring the environment to help find the good guys, the bad guys, things being launched.”

The new capability will allow pilots to begin figuring out how the system can be used tactically. They will be able to expand some of the limited air-to-air and air-to-surface combat training they already are undertaking, Kloos said.

The image will be displayed in the cockpit for now, but eventually should be available inside the pilot’s helmet.

The Block 2 jet is still restricted from certain maneuvers, including flying at night, aerobatics, taking off or landing in formation and flying during certain weather events or at certain speeds. Additional capabilities should arrive with new versions of the jet and software updates that already are in the pipeline.

Kloos said an Air Force pilot should be able to fly the newest jet within the next two to three weeks, and then a small group of instructor pilots will begin training to fly it.

The program will need to implement a new curriculum for the jets, which should become the primary instruction by late summer or early fall when the squadron is set to have six of the new aircraft, Kloos said.

The early versions of the jets, Block 1, will require some hardware and software upgrades to reach full capability, although that was not initially in the Pentagon’s plan. Those upgrades are still years away, so until then the squadron will have to figure out how to incorporate the older jets into their training program.

The Navy contingent at Eglin should receive its first two F-35s, which will also be Block 2 capable, by the end of the month.

The addition of at least 16 new aircraft this year will add more permanent personnel to the 33rd Fighter Wing, which oversees the schoolhouse.

The wing now employs more than 1,300 people. That could increase to 1,900 by the end of the year, with an additional 300 projected in 2014, said Ellis Vancil, the 33rd’s chief of manpower and personnel.

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