Over the past two months, major components of the new F-35 Lightning II egress trainer, an advanced replica of the F-35 cockpit designed to simulate the mechanical layout of the ejection and emergency evacuation system, have arrived at Luke Air Force Base.
Upon completion of the build, the third of its kind in the nation, the trainer will be used by Detachment 12, 372nd Training Squadron instructors to train Luke’s first class of F-35 egress maintainers.
“The term egress denotes escape,” said Staff Sgt. Edward Cunningham, 372nd TRS, Det. 12 F-16 and F-35 egress instructor. “For pilots, egress is the ability to survive when something goes wrong. This is their process of separating from the aircraft.”
When the live ejection system is activated, the canopy of the aircraft’s cockpit will detach from the aircraft. With the pilot strapped in, the seat will then catapult away from the rest of the aircraft before deploying a parachute that will bring the pilot safely to the ground. After activation, the entire process is automatic.
“In the old days, separating from your aircraft involved you climbing out of the cockpit and jumping out with a parachute on your back,” Cunningham said. “Now, you just pull a handle and the aircraft and the seat take care of everything for you.”
Cunningham will instruct the first Luke F-35 egress maintainer class, which is tentatively scheduled to begin in early April. Despite being a simulated model, he says that the system is both comprehensive and effective as a learning tool.
“We can do any component removal on the trainer, like canopy removal or seat removal,” Cunningham said. “It allows us to cover any aspect of the coursework in the training.”
The extreme technical accuracy of the trainer will allow student maintainers to deeply familiarize themselves with the various aspects of the egress system and gain first-hand knowledge of processes for maintaining them.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Master Sgt. Jeremy Rolin, 372nd TRS, Det. 12 egress instructor and Field Training Detachment NCO in charge. “For the most part, everything in the cockpit or on the exterior of the trainer is exactly identical to what is on the actual aircraft. Every switch that is in the F-35 cockpit is in this trainer.”
In addition to its capacity to educate maintainers, the trainer will also be used as a controlled simulation environment to familiarize pilots with the cockpit and emergency egress system use.
“Delivery of the trainer provides student pilots familiarity operating aircraft equipment under normal and emergency conditions, as well as ensures valuable resources are protected by saving the real F-35s from any unnecessary abuse caused by the repetition of continuous training,” said Maj. Chris Duncan, 56th Training Squadron F-35 training systems chief. “Emergency procedures training, allows pilots to exercise time-critical emergency egress actions required for inflight or ground emergencies.”
The F-35 platform uses technology far more advanced than that found in older legacy jets like the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, both of which are near 30-year-old designs. Despite this gap in advancements, Cunningham says it’s no more challenging for maintainers to learn to work with this system than with those of legacy jets.
“Anyone who has worked on this system so far will tell you that it’s one of the easiest and most maintainer friendly systems we have. There is nothing like the simplicity of the maintenance on this system, despite its technological complexity.”
The trainer accompanies the slew of existing F-35 training programs already in action at Luke, complimenting the base’s ability to produce a mission-ready F-35 force capable of dealing with all tasks both on the ground and in the air.
“The egress trainer will be incorporated into a total training solution for F-35 pilots that already includes electronic media lectures, interactive courseware, pilot training aids (part-task trainers), and full mission simulators,” Duncan said. “Delivery of the F-35 egress trainer is the final piece to completing a fully integrated system designed to train the world’s most elite F-35 fighter pilots.”