Lockheed Martin has graduated the 2,000th pilot through the F-35 training system. Preparing pilots to take to the skies for the first time is no easy feat and requires an average of 192 hours of training before taking off. With nearly half of the qualifying flights needed to become a pilot being conducted in a simulator, the training process is more unique than ever before. Through utilization of high-fidelity simulation, pilots have a seamless transition from trainer to jet. The F-35 Full Mission Simulator is a fully immersive trainer that employs the same software as the jet itself and incorporates full weapons and sensor simulation. To ensure they are ready for the missions of tomorrow, pilots train for a broad range of air-to-air, air-to-ground and electronic warfare missions in the simulator.
Maj. Chris “Blade” Jeffers is the 2,000th F-35 pilot to graduate through the F-35 training program. Completing his training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, Maj. Jeffers will operate the F-35A for the United States Air Force. “The most rewarding part of training is just seeing what I can do now in the F-35 compared to the F-16. The situational awareness and capabilities that the F-35 offers, would take multiple F-16s,” said Jeffers.
“We’re not done growing. It’s pretty remarkable to see how the training system has matured and how quickly we have ramped up training over the years,” said F-35 Training Operations Manager, David Fox, who oversaw the first four pilots that graduated from the training program in 2012.
In March 2020, Lockheed Martin graduated the 1,000th pilot, Capt. Craig “Chuckles” Turner. Three years later, an additional 1,000 pilots have joined the F-35 enterprise to fly the 5th Generation jet and bring new capabilities to forces across the globe. Today, there are over 2,000 pilots and over 14,000 maintainers trained from 10 nations – United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea, and Denmark. With 24 current training bases and sights set on 32 total by 2025, the number of F-35 pilots and maintainers will continue to increase for years to come.
From the first day of class to their final flight, Lockheed Martin works in lockstep with pilots from all services and nations part of the F-35 program to ensure all skills are perfected and every flight is a safe one. Once a pilot graduates from the F-35 training program, they will come back to the simulator to conduct additional training and prepare for missions as needed. Utilizing simulations reduces cost and overall wear to the jets, allowing fleets to stay mission-ready and pilots to maintain their skills. Given the F-35’s fifth-generation capabilities such as stealth, advanced sensors, sensor fusion and networking capabilities, pilots are required to master new competencies. With simulation, Lockheed Martin is redefining how pilots train to provide the range of experience they need to maximize the capabilities of the F-35 and conduct every flight safely.