Maj. Halit Oktay is the first Turkish pilot to fly the F-35

Maj. Halit Oktay is the first Turkish pilot to fly the F-35

By Dario Leone
Sep 1 2018
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On Jun. 19, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said Turkish pilots and maintenance personnel were being trained on the F-35 fighter jet at Luke AFB

According Daily Sabah, on Aug. 29, Maj. Halit Oktay became the first pilot from Turkey to fly on the F-35.

On Jun. 21, Turkey took delivery of its first F-35 fighter jet at a ceremony in Forth Worth, Texas. On Jun. 19, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (Turkish Air Force, TuAF) pilots and maintenance personnel were being trained on the F-35 fighter jet at Luke Air Force Base (AFB), Arizona.

As already reported, on Aug. 13, 2018 U.S. President Donald Trump has signed into law a defense policy bill that will hold up the transfer to Turkey of 100 F-35 fighter jets, deepening a rift between the two countries over the ongoing imprisonment of an American pastor in Turkey.

Maj. Halit Oktay is the first Turkish pilot to fly the F-35
Maj. Halit Oktay is the first Turkish pilot to fly the F-35

The move amounts to a sharp blow to Ankara, which is already reeling from Trump’s decision last week to double down on tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel. Turkey planned to take possession of the jets over the next decade, which would make it the third-largest operator of F-35s in the world.

But its cancellation will also complicate matters for the U. S. Several key components of the jet are manufactured by Turkish companies, and the U.S. Defense Department estimates it will take two years to find and qualify new suppliers to replace any Turkish firms that are kicked out of the program. Meanwhile, the main European hub for the F-35’s engine repair and overhaul is in Eskisehir, in northwestern Turkey.

Turkey jailed the American pastor, Andrew Brunson, almost two years ago in a widespread crackdown that followed a military coup attempt. Ankara maintains that Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, had ties to the plotters.

However senior U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, have warned against removing Turkey from the F-35 program.

Ankara is a critical geopolitical partner and cornerstone of the NATO alliance, and the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey is a key launching pad for operations in the Middle East, particularly the campaign against the Islamic State. It is also home to a U.S. stockpile of B61 nuclear bombs, a linchpin of nuclear deterrence in Europe. Ankara is also a crucial partner in rebuilding Syria as the West, Russia, and Iran jockey for power in the war-torn nation.

Maj. Halit Oktay is the first Turkish pilot to fly the F-35
This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35A Lightning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014

The sale of the F-35 to Turkey is particularly controversial, because Ankara also plans to purchase the sophisticated Russian-built S-400 missile system. Officials say integration of the S-400 with the F-35 and NATO air defenses could compromise closely guarded U.S. and allied military secrets.

Since Washington decided to suspend the delivery of the F-35, Ankara may switch to buying the Russian Su-57 (or Su-35).

“If they take such a step at a moment when we are trying to mend our bilateral ties, they will definitely get a response from Turkey. There is no longer the old Turkey,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told private broadcaster CNN Türk in an interview on May 6.

Turkey to receive first F-35 on Thursday despite opposition from Congress

If Turkey had to buy the Su-57 it would be the first country (outside Russia) to buy the first Russian stealth fighter after India dropped out of Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), known in India as the Perspective Multirole Fighter (PMF), which actually was a derivative project of the Sukhoi Su-57.

Photo credit: AA and Clinton White / Highbrass

Artwork courtesy of

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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