Guard's first F-35 pilot ready for action at new squadron

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
  • FLNG Public Affairs
Florida Air National Guard pilot Maj. Jay Spohn arrived at the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base this summer, and said he is ready to begin training and honing the skills it will take to master the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter.
As the only National Guardsman at the Air Force's first F-35 squadron, Spohn said he is humbled to have been chosen for the position, but is ready to show his active duty counterparts that he is prepared for the challenge.
"I feel it's important for me or any Air National Guardsman or reservist who comes (here) - especially in these early stages - to show that we're as good as or better than our active duty counterparts," Spohn, 35, said. "The fact that we are Guardsmen or reservists should be invisible to our counterparts.
My hope is that I'm looked at as one of the stronger guys here, and I'm going to do everything that I can do to put myself in that category."
Until the 58th Fighter Squadron actually receives the F-35 aircraft Spohn serves as the Chief of Standards and Evaluation at the unit. When the jets eventually arrive at Eglin, Spohn and the other pilots will follow-up their academic and simulator training with actual flight time in the much-touted fighters.
The Guardsman said he sees how the F-35 program reflects the recently published leadership philosophy of Florida Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw titled "Linking Our Heritage to Our Horizons." Spohn said flying the
F-35 will probably be a synthesis of more than 30 years of jet fighter tactics and state-of-the-art technology.
"It will probably not be the way we did things in the previous generation of fighters," Spohn explained, "but it's also probably not going to be a clean slate where we do everything differently."
Based on his F-35 simulator time, Spohn said he is really impressed with the technological capabilities the new plane will have over earlier generations of jets.
"The capability of the radar is just amazing compared to the previous generation of radars that we have," he explained. "You used to have to pull in data from several different sources and assimilate that all in your head.
The F-35 does a lot of that for you. I really feel that it is going to give you a capability in the air-to-air environment to know better what is going on around you, and ultimately if you know that you can make a more informed decision and take appropriate action."
Like many pilots, flying is more than just a job to Spohn: it is a passion.
He said he remembers watching movies like "Top Gun" when he was a child, and when he joined the Civil Air Patrol in high school he got hooked on the idea of actually climbing into a cockpit and taking the "stick" of a fighter jet.
"As far back as I can remember I wanted to fly fighters," he said. "Honestly I didn't particularly care whether it was for the Navy, the Marines or the Air Force, it just worked out that I knew about the Air National Guard."
After college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., he joined the Pennsylvania Air National Guard and flew A-10 Thunderbolts from December 2001 until March 2007. During that time he deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom, and later to Kuwait for Operation Iraqi Freedom where he flew close-air-support missions for coalition forces during the initial invasion of Iraq.
He added that he brings his experience of flying the A-10 to the new F-35 squadron, and feels he can offer a fresh perspective of providing close-air-support missions in combat: "I feel like my role in the F-35 squadron is to do whatever I can to bring the A-10 perspective to the close-air-support mission."
After serving briefly in the Arkansas National Guard, Spohn was selected in November 2009 for training as the Guard's first F-35 pilot.
Commander of the Florida Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Joseph Balskus, who served as the chairman of the selection board with representation from National Guard Bureau, Air Combat Command and the Florida Air National Guard, explained that Spohn's selection to the F-35 program reflected his talents as an aviator.
"The application itself was very restrictive with specific qualifying criteria, and we went through a pool of amazingly talented fighter pilots from across the nation to get down to the final four," Balskus said. "Maj.
Spohn's interview demonstrated an incredible amount of energy, motivation, unrestricted availability and desire. This, combined with this background as an aviator, made our choice unanimous."
After transferring to the Florida National Guard Spohn began training on the F-15C Eagle jet fighter at Tyndall Air Force Base - a course giving him air-to-air training that would match his extensive air-to-ground experience from the A-10s. Following that training Spohn arrived at Eglin Air Force Base in July.