Edwards test pilot first to reach 1,000 flight hours in Joint Strike Fighter

Robert Wallace (left), Lockheed Martin Flight Operations senior manager, presents David “Doc” Nelson a special flight suit patch for being the first to achieve 1,000 flight hours in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Jan. 6. (Courtesy photo by Tom Reynolds/Lockheed Martin)

Robert Wallace (left), Lockheed Martin Flight Operations senior manager, presents David “Doc” Nelson a special flight suit patch for being the first to achieve 1,000 flight hours in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Jan. 6, 2017. (Courtesy photo)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

Lockheed Martin test pilot David "Doc" Nelson became the first pilot to achieve 1,000 flight hours in the F-35 during a test sortie Jan. 6, 2017.

He achieved the milestone during a 4.5-hour flight in AF-03, one of the 461st Flight Test Squadron’s Joint Strike Fighters used for developmental test and evaluation.

“It's an honor. At my age, to be flying the best attack airplane in the world, it's a privilege and I thank my lucky stars every day,” Nelson said.

A retired Air Force pilot, Nelson has been flying the F-35 since 2009. He's been an experimental test pilot since 1991 and is a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards.

Members of the 461st FLTS and Lockheed Martin greeted Nelson as he deplaned and gave him a traditional spray down with water for his achievement. He was also presented with a plaque and special patch for his flight suit for achieving the milestone.

The Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Test Force and the 461st FLTS at Edwards are responsible for developmental testing of the F-35.

With the work of the JSF ITF and 461st FLTS, the Air Force F-35A was declared combat ready Aug. 2, 2016.

The F-35 is designed to replace aging fighter inventories including U.S. Air Force F-16s and A-10s, U.S. Navy F/A-18s, U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers and F/A-18s, and U.K. Harrier GR.7s and Sea Harriers. With stealth and a host of next-generation technologies, the F-35 is far and away the world’s most advanced multi-role fighter according to the Air Force.