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New F-35 flagship welcomed by youngest pilot, crew chiefs

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Billy Mullis, 356th Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II pilot, poses for a photo at Lockheed-Martin in Fort Worth, Tx, July 30, 2020. Mullis had the privelidge of flying the 354th FW flagship to its homestation at Eielson Air Force Base, AK. (Lockheed Martin photo by Chris Hanoch)

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Billy Mullis, 356th Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II pilot, poses for a photo at Lockheed-Martin in Fort Worth, Tx, July 30, 2020. Mullis had the privelidge of flying the 354th FW flagship to its homestation at Eielson Air Force Base, AK. (Lockheed Martin photo by Chris Hanoch)

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Billy Mullis, 356th Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II pilot, poses for a photo at Lockheed-Martin in Fort Worth, Tx, July 30, 2020. Mullis had the privelidge of flying the 354th FW flagship to its homestation at Eielson Air Force Base, AK. (Lockheed Martin photo by Chris Hanoch)

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Billy Mullis, 356th Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II pilot, poses for a photo at Lockheed-Martin in Fort Worth, Tx, July 30, 2020. Mullis had the privelidge of flying the 354th FW flagship to its homestation at Eielson Air Force Base, AK. (Lockheed Martin photo by Chris Hanoch)

The 354th FW also welcomed flagship jets for the 356th and 355th Fighter Squadrons.

From left: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Anthony Iavarone, 354th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) assistant dedicated crew chief; Col. Shawn Anger, 354th Fighter Wing (FW) commander; Col. Matthew Powell, 354th Maintenance Group commander; 1st Lt. Billy Mullis, 356th Fighter Squadron (FS) F-35A Lightning II pilot; Airman 1st Class Lukas Turley, 354th AMXS assistant dedicated crew chief; and Airman 1st Class Zickey Nicholas, 354th AMXS assistant dedicated crew chief, pose for a photo following the arrival of the 354th FW’s flagship F-35A Lightning II at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, July 30, 2020. The 354th FW also welcomed flagship jets for the 356th and 355th Fighter Squadrons. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Zade Vadnais)

Mullis was chosen to pilot the flagship jet and Turley was chosen to recover it because they were the 354th FW’s youngest pilot and crew chief respectively.

From left: U.S. Air Force Col. Shawn Anger, 354th Fighter Wing (FW) commander; 1st Lt. Billy Mullis, 356th Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II pilot; and Airman 1st Class Lukas Turley, 354th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assistant dedicated crew chief, pose for a photo following the arrival of the 354th FW’s flagship F-35 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, July 30, 2020. Mullis was chosen to pilot the flagship jet and Turley was chosen to recover it because they were the 354th FW’s youngest pilot and crew chief respectively. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Zade Vadnais)

The 354th Fighter Wing flagship F-35A Lightning II flown by U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Billy Mullis, a 356th Fighter Squadron pilot, taxis on the flightline at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, July 30, 2020. The three flagship F-35As were flown from the Lockheed Martin factory in Fort Worth, Texas to their homestation in Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla)

The 354th Fighter Wing flagship F-35A Lightning II flown by U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Billy Mullis, a 356th Fighter Squadron pilot, taxis on the flightline at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, July 30, 2020. The three flagship F-35As were flown from the Lockheed Martin factory in Fort Worth, Texas to their homestation in Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla)

Three F-35A Lightning IIs taxi down the flightline for the first time at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, July 30, 2020. The aircraft are the designated flagships for the 354th Fighter Wing, and the 356th and 355th Fighter Squadrons, and are the newest additions to the Eielson fleet. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla)

Three F-35A Lightning IIs taxi down the flightline for the first time at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, July 30, 2020. The aircraft are the designated flagships for the 354th Fighter Wing, and the 356th and 355th Fighter Squadrons, and are the newest additions to the Eielson fleet. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jerilyn Quintanilla)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --

Three new F-35A Lightning II aircraft belonging to the 354th Fighter Wing arrived from the factory line at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, to their homestation on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, July 30, 2020.

The fighter jets were flagships representing the 354th FW and the 355th and 356th Fighter Squadrons. Eielson’s newest and youngest F-35A pilot, 1st Lt. Billy Mullis, 356th FS, had the rare opportunity to fly the 354th FW flagship to its permanent home.

“This was an amazing opportunity,” said Mullis. “The flight was about six hours and I have never flown that long in any jet period. Getting to fly from Texas to Alaska was awesome.”

From a young age, Mullis has dreamed of becoming a pilot one day.

 “Since elementary school I have been looking at military planes and they were always something I was interested in,” said Mullis. “I was initially drawn to becoming a pilot on the F-16 Fighting Falcon, but when I got to pilot training, I learned about the F-35 and what kind of plane it was as well as the opportunities I would have so I put it as number one on my dream sheet with no expectation of getting it. The luck and timing lined up and there was one available at that time.”

Once airborne, Mullis is solely responsible for one of the Air Force’s newest fifth generation aircraft. They bring an enhanced capability to survive in the advanced threat environment in which it was designed to operate

 “The systems that this jet has the abilities we have to employ them are next level; it’s awesome,” said Mullis.

The team that received the jet was also comprised of the youngest Airmen in their respective fields; Airmen 1st Class Lukas Turley and Anthony Iavarone, both 354th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-35A assistant dedicated crew chiefs.

“The feeling that comes to mind is admiration for my team,” said Iavarone. “To be able to be a part of something so early in my career is amazing. I am a part of a legacy that is building not only at Eielson but in the Air Force as well. This is what the future of Eielson is and it is breathtaking. I am confident in the team I work with and have nothing but gratitude towards them and my leadership.”

While stationed at Eielson, F-35As will play a crucial role within the United States Indo-Pacific Command.

With its aerodynamic performance and advanced integrated avionics, the F-35A will provide next-generation stealth, enhanced situational awareness, and reduced vulnerability for the United States and allied nations.

 “This is the next era in setting up fifth generation capabilities in Alaska,” said Mullis. “We’ve got the F-22 Raptors down at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and then getting two squadrons of F-35s, Alaska will have so many capabilities all centered in one spot.”

Just like Mullis, the F-35A will be participating in its first RED FLAG-Alaska; RF-A 20-3, which starts August 3rd.

“I am going to get everything out of it that I can,” said Mullis. “I’ve participated in a couple large-force exercises with a lot of jets in one area and I’m interested in seeing what challenges and abilities this exercise will bring.”

Mullis and his family have been at Eielson for just a few months and he said they are very thankful for this experience and to be a part of such an amazing team.

 “Being part of the 356th FS is amazing,” said Mullis. “It’s a work hard, play hard, kind of squadron. There are long days and a lot of work, but we are all a part of history and I wouldn’t choose anything else over it.”