It was an historic moment as the first class of undergraduate pilots began training through the newly written F-35 Lightning II syllabus Dec. 5 in the F-35 Academic Training Center at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.
The day was long awaited as Luke personnel worked to create the syllabus for several years.
“The start of the F-35 B-course class today is the culmination of years of work by thousands of U.S. and partner active duty, civilian, industry and government personnel,” said Maj. Matthew Mayer, 56th Fighter Wing F-35 Program Integration Chief. “Specifically over the past several years, the Luke F-35 team has taken delivery of the world’s newest leading edge combat aircraft. They put it through the wringer to fully understand its capabilities then based on lessons learned, designed a training program to produce world class F-35 pilots and support personnel for decades to come. This was no easy task. Many traditional ‘4th Generation’ support, maintenance and operations methods and procedures needed updating, modifying, or all together recreation. Many open minds have engaged that challenge and succeeded in laying a solid foundation to carry the U.S. and its allies into the future of combat aviation.”
The course is more than seven months long. The first few weeks will be focused on academics and simulators. The remainder of the course will be a combination of flying, academics and simulators.
For those who don’t know, traditionally only pilots with prior fighter jet experience were chosen to fly the F-35. Under the new F-35 curriculum, pilots with no prior experience flying fighter aircraft will be able to learn to fly the F-35 as their first fighter jet.
“The six pilots selected have flown the T-38 Talon,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Hayden, 56th Training Squadron commander. “The pipeline for undergraduate pilot training is first training on the T-6 Texan II and then they will be selected into either a fighter track or a cargo/tanker track. Our pilots have been track selected into the fighter track so they went on to fly the T-38 to earn their wings. Afterward they went through a course called Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals during which they also flew the T-38. The IFF is essentially a shorter course that is a snapshot of mission sets we typically do in a fighter. From there, pilots are branched off into either the F-16, F-22, A-10 Thunderbolt II or in this case, the F-35.”
The need to create the curriculum arose to ensure the future and growth of the F-35 community.
“Pilots that are fresh out of pilot training have an advantage because since they have no fighter jet experience, they are able to better absorb what we teach them and don’t come with habits that more experienced fighter pilots may bring when learning a new platform,” Hayden said. “The new syllabus also benefits the Air Force in the long run by building experience in the F-35 and shaping the F-35 platform and the community.”
As students go through the course, adjustments will be made to the syllabus as needed.
“Throughout the course we will be gathering the lessons learned by phase,” Gette said. “Then the lessons learned will be vetted and pushed up to influence syllabus changes.”
One F-35 student pilot shares his feelings about the course.
“We’re all very grateful and excited to be here,” said Capt. Anthony Nejman, 61st FS F-35 student pilot. “I’m really looking forward to flying again and can’t wait to get in the seat of an F-35.”
The creation of the new F-35 syllabus and start of the first class marks a monumental moment for not only Luke but the Air Force overall.
“We’ve entered a new phase of training F-35 pilots,” said Col. Benjamin Bishop, 56th Operations Group commander. “The student pilots starting today are the future of the F-35 program because five, 10, 15 years from now when these pilots assume leadership roles, they are going to lead the community with a different perspective. It is a phenomenal opportunity today to innovate and to take this airplane into the next step. This syllabus is the future of fighter aviation, especially in the F-35 community, as the F-35 becomes more and more prevalent. We already reached initial operational capability and now we’re reaching toward the next step to full war fighting capability. I’m excited about being a part of this program and again in the 56th Fighter Wing, ‘We build the future of airpower’ and this is an important step in that process.”