Preparing Pilots and Maintainers
Currently, more than 500 F-35 pilots and 4,500 maintainers have qualified through the F-35 Training System, and eight nations have pilots and/or maintainers in training. Simulation plays a prominent role in the F-35 training process, more so than legacy platforms. Because of the advanced capabilities of the F-35, it is not possible to adequately challenge pilots in the live environment alone. With simulation, the F-35 team is redefining how pilots train to provide the range of experience required to maximize the jet’s 5th Generation capabilities.
Three training centers across the United States host the latest courseware, electronic classrooms, simulators, flight events and event-based maintenance training. To support mission rehearsal and tactics development, F-35 training technologies are also located at operational locations.
More than 200 U.S. and international suppliers are contributing to the F-35 Training System. The F-35 program is built on extensive industrial participation to generate economic growth in F-35 nations and deliver the most affordable, effective technologies.
In all of the high-fidelity Full Mission Simulators, F-35 software gives students the most realistic experience possible while accelerating the process for software upgrades as the F-35 continues to develop and mature. Flexibility is fundamental to the design of the training system and is built in to every element, allowing the system to accommodate all three aircraft variants and all U.S. and international services.
The F-35 presents new ways to tactically employ and requires pilots to master new competencies. Pilots train for a broad range of air-to-air, air-to-ground and electronic warfare missions in the simulator. The fidelity of the Full Mission Simulators currently allows 45-55 percent of initial training flights to be accomplished virtually. The syllabus includes technology-driven academics, flights in the Full Mission Simulator and live flights in the aircraft. In comparison, about 40 percent of initial qualification for the F-16 is conducted through simulation.
The F-35 Integrated Training Center (ITC) at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, is a first-of-its-kind facility. The F-35 Training System for pilots and maintainers blends together a variety of training media to create a total training solution for the F-35. The ITC at the 33rd Fighter Wing is where the 58th Fighter Squadron became the U.S. Air Force’s first full squadron of F-35As.
The "Grim Reapers" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, the Navy's first F-35C carrier variant squadron, also call Eglin home. Eglin Air Force Base also served as the initial training base for the "Warlords" of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501) comprised of F-35B pilots and maintainers and continues to house the U.S. Marine Corps’ growing fleet of F-35Cs.
U.S. Marine Corps F-35B pilot training has now transitioned to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina where the VMFAT-501 continues to grow its capacity and will also train U.K. and Italy F-35B pilots. Additional pilot training for the U.S. Air Force and all international partners who fly the F-35A is hosted by the 61st Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.
Because of the aircraft’s computing power, F-35 maintainers must bring a high level of technical expertise to their jobs. All maintenance training is conducted at Eglin Air Force Base. Maintainers rotate from the classroom to training devices to develop an in-depth understanding of the F-35 weapon system.
The mix of simulation and flight line training varies per maintenance specialty. A majority of training occurs via computer-based courses and hands-on exercises with simulators and A variety of unique training devices provide a truly realistic experience for students. This enables students to execute tasks like maintenance on the landing gear, loading weapons on the aircraft and more.
Using simulation means reduced impact on aircraft availability since the jets aren’t taken off the flying schedule for the majority of training tasks. This also allows maintainers to engage in a variety of maintenance tasks to ensure they are proficient before servicing the jet.
Training that Evolves with the Mission
After graduating from the schoolhouse training at any of the three locations – Eglin Air Force Base, Luke Air Force Base, or MCAS Beaufort – both pilots and maintainers remain in a continuous learning environment with access to all training courseware, applications and deployable training devices to keep their training up-to-date and sharp. International training will expand significantly in the coming years, as training facilities in the U.K., Italy, Australia, Israel, Norway, South Korea and Japan begin to stand up in 2017 and 2018.
Throughout the F-35 Training System enterprise, the Training System Support Center (TSSC) manages and distributes training device baselines, updates courseware and diagnoses both student and system performance. These TSSC capabilities enable the training system to remain current with the aircraft's technology while incorporating the latest training technologies.