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‘Natural born pilots:’ Derco employees take F-35 for a spin without ever leaving the ground

Derco employees test fly F-35MILWAUKEE -- It is one of the military's most expensive aircraft, and on Thursday, April 11, the F-35 made a pit stop of sorts in Milwaukee. Some got to take the plane for a spin without ever leaving the ground.

Derco employees stepped away from their workstations on Thursday and took on the open air.

"From what I hear from the instructors, we have some natural born pilots, which is exciting," said Brian Holt, Derco president.

Brian Holt

Brian Holt

Derco, an acquisition of Lockheed Martin, distributes and repairs spare parts for military aircraft.

"The largest defense contractor in the world. The F-35 is the premier platform for Lockheed Martin," said Holt.

While Derco doesn't produce parts for the F-35, a simulator was brought to the company's headquarters in Milwaukee, where employees were able to test fly the multi-role fighter jet.

"Air to air, shooting airplanes down, as well as air to surface, dropping bombs on targets on the ground," said Christine Mau, retired Air Force fighter pilot.

Derco employees test fly F-35

Derco employees test fly F-35

Mau served 20 years in the Air Force, and was the first female pilot to fly the F-35.

"It was an honor, and I'm really proud to still be part of the program," said Mau.

Derco employees test fly F-35

Christine Mau

Christine Mau

The program comes with a steep price tag. F-35 variants range between $89 million and $108 million -- another reason Mau said it's important to tour the simulator.

"What it really does is allow folks to see where their taxpayer dollars are going," said Mau.

From Milwaukee, the F-35 would head to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. It travels across the country on a weekly basis.

Derco employees test fly F-35

Derco employees test fly F-35

There are currently no F-35 fighter jets based in Wisconsin, but the United States military is looking into stationing the aircraft at Truax Field in Madison. No final decision has been made.

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