Pilot’s historic flight marks significant milestone for Florida Air National Guard

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Chelsea Smith
  • 125th Fighter Wing

JACKSONVILLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Fla. – On Aug. 13, 2021, Capt. Joseph “Sic” Scerra made history by becoming the first 159th Fighter Squadron pilot to complete a sortie flying the F-35A Lightning II while assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke AFB, AZ.

The milestone arrives on the heels of the release of the final Environmental Impact Statement confirming Jacksonville as the next home of one of the most lethal, advanced fighter jets in the world.

“I’m just excited! Stoked is probably the best word to describe it,” said Scerra. “To have had the opportunity to fly the F-15C Eagle in combat with some of the very best and most talented people on this earth was a big win. To then have the opportunity to learn a brand new jet for a city that I now call home is awesome.”

The F-35A has some of the most sophisticated and advanced avionics capabilities created and can support many different types of mission sets. With significantly less switches and buttons in the F-35A compared to the Eagle, the aircraft is primarily controlled by two large touch screen displays for 95 percent of its avionics, said Scerra.

“The steepest learning curve has been figuring out how to absorb and manage all of the situational awareness that the F-35A systems provide,” he said. “Flying the jet itself is incredibly easy, however managing all of the sensors, learning completely new mission sets, and applying all of that information to achieve the tactical win is the challenge.”

As an F-15C instructor pilot with more than 900 flight hours, Scerra was primed to be “the first” to achieve this record-breaking feat yet he believes the opportunity to complete the first F-35A flight as a member of the 159th FS is more serendipitous than deliberate. Regardless, he is encouraged by the support and confidence of his leadership and proud to be integral in the process of getting the F-35A to Jacksonville, he said.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” he said. “I was going through the Instructor Upgrade (IPUG) in the F-15C when the Florida Air National Guard was selected for the F-35A. It made sense to complete IPUG to learn as much as possible from some of the most experienced fighter pilots in the FANG. This would help shape me as not only an F-15C instructor, but hopefully, as an F-35A instructor to help the FANG maintain its supreme lethality.”

"Capt Scerra is one of several of our phenomenal young fighter pilots,” said Col. Matthew French, 125th Fighter Wing commander. “He perfectly represents the amazing trajectory and future of the 125th Fighter Wing: professionalism, excellence, and highly capable. We are very proud of him as he leads the bow wave of our many exceptional Airmen transitioning to this exciting mission." 

Scerra is currently completing the syllabus offered by the 56th FW for experienced fighter pilots transitioning to the Lightning II and will continue through IPUG until at least 2024.

The Florida Air National Guard was selected as a new home of the F-35A with the 5th generation aircraft replacing the legendary F-15C Eagle currently flown by the 125th Fighter Wing. A number of FLANG pilots are beginning their transition to the F-35A with the first aircraft expected to arrive in Jacksonville in 2024.