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The 56th Fighter Wing at Luke AFB, Ariz., conducted its first F-35A student training sortie, announced base officials. Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, 56th FW commander and an F-16 pilot, completed the flight on March 18 as part of his upgrade training to join Luke's F-35A instructor cadre ahead of the first class that the formal training unit there is planning to start in early May. "It's important that I complete my flying training here with our airmen, in our airspace, so I could help refine and validate our program," said Pleus. "The F-35 is going to be the backbone of the Air Force's fighter fleet for decades to come and Luke will play a vital role in producing the world's greatest, most lethal F-35 pilots," he said. Luke's first F-35A arrived in March 2014. There are now 20 F-35s on station, including two Australian airplanes, states the release. Eventually the base will host up to 144 F-35As. The Air Force is working toward having the first combat unit of F-35As available for combat around August 2016.