Class in session for Air Force F-35 pilots

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Although this time of year typically marks the end of classwork, soon-to-be F-35 pilots are just beginning to hit the books.Earlier this month, Luke Air Force Base began its inaugural F-35 training class, which will begin funneling future F-35 pilots — including those from Hill Air Force Base — through a rigorous orientation process that will teach pilots about the various components of the next-generation fighter.

Luke’s Academic Training Center focuses on the academic and simulator training, and the base’s 61st Fighter Squadron provides the more hands-on in-the-air flight training.  

“It’s a build-up approach training, where we start with academics, move to hands-on training with the simulators and finally to the aircraft,” Lt. Col. Matt Hayden, 56th Training Squadron director of operations, said in a Luke news release. “The F-35 is built in a way to introduce students to the basic overall aircraft handling of its systems and what makes up the F-35.”

Luke will serve as the Air Force’s main training base for the force’s F-35A variant of the jet. Kari Tilton, spokeswoman for Hill’s 419th Fighter Wing, said reserve pilots from the wing are slated to begin training at Luke during the next few months. Nathan Simmons, spokesman for Hill’s active-duty 388th Fighter Wing, also confirmed that active-duty pilots would soon be sent to Luke for training.

Simmons said 388th pilots from Hill are currently doing some training at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The training at Eglin is designed to orient pilots with the physical aspects of flying the F-35 compared with other fighters they’ve flown before, like the F-16 or the A-10.

According to Luke’s Public Affairs office, the total F-35 training, from academics and simulators to ramping up the engine on the flightline, takes about three months.

Members of the first training class at Luke will become instructors upon completion of the course.

“The pilots going through the training right now are going to be staying here at Luke to be instructors,” Hayden said. “When they graduate they may very well turn around in a matter of days to instructing students in what they just learned, which is why we chose previous fighter pilot instructors to be in the first class to have that tactical experience.”

As the Air Force’s first operational F-35 base, Hill is scheduled to begin receiving its F-35 fleet by September. The jets will arrive in waves, and Hill is expected to receive 72 of the jets by 2019.

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