Instructors, students adapt COVID-19 safeguards to continue F-35 training mission

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Airman 1st Class Gregory St Romain, a 58th Air Maintenance Unit crew chief, signals to the pilot before flight at Eglin Air Force Base Fla., March 25, 2020. The 58th Fighter Squadron and 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit continue to execute the training mission during reduced flying operations due to COVID-19. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Amber Litteral)
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In a time filled with uncertainty due to the ever-evolving COVID-19 crisis, the 33rd Fighter Wing’s 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Gorillas take steps to combat the potential spread of the virus, while continuing to execute the flying training mission.

Within 24 hours of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 here, Airmen at the 58th FS created and implemented a new work schedule using a split-team concept. 

“Other squadrons are now following our lead with the two-team approach,” said Capt. Matthew Powell, 58th FS instructor pilot. 

Lt. Col. David Cochran, 58th Fighter Squadron commander, prepares for flight at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., March 25, 2020. The 58th Fighter Squadron and 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit continue to execute the training mission during reduced flying operations due to COVID-19. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Amber Litteral
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Based on their qualifications, student pilots are divided into teams with instructor pilots split between each group. 

“We spend a week on the flightline while the other team is in the simulator for a week. After a week we swap locations,” Powell said. “We do not interact at all with members of the other team and only show up to base when required to fly, sim, or instruct academics. All other functions are performed remotely.”

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve, the importance of the 33rd FW training mission is not lost on the Airmen.

The F-35 program serves as a strategic deterrent against a future existential and external threat – one I hope we never fight, but will be emboldened if we don’t show resolve and resilience in tough times like this,” said Lt. Col. David Cochran, 58th FS commander. “Our team is aware of the strategic value of our mission. Our graduates will staff the future combat forces that will prevent America’s next war.”

Lt. Col David Cochran, 58th Fighter Squadron commander, prepares for flight at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, March 25, 2020. The 58th Fighter Squadron and 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit continue to execute the training mission during reduced flying operations due to COVID-19. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Amber Litteral)

The Air Force and Department of Defense continues efforts to ensure the safety of personnel and their families, while also continuing operations in an effort to maintain the security of our nation against all current and future adversaries. 

“COVID-19 is one threat to our society … and we are doing our part to follow all CDC and national guidelines to mitigate personal risk and community spread,” said Cochran. “We are very conscious of our social responsibility to stop the spread [of the virus] and have made significant changes to our operations to achieve that goal.”
 
 
 

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