by Senior Airman James Hensley
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
5/21/2015 - 5/18/2015 - LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, ARIZ. - -- The first ever F-35 Lightning II pilot training class was held at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, May 4.
Two F-16 Fighting Falcon instructor pilots and two A-10 Warthog
instructor pilots were selected for the class, making them the first
students to learn how to operate the fifth-generation fighter.
"Luke's Academic Training Center focuses on the academic and simulator
training and the 61st Fighter Squadron will train on the flying piece,"
said Lt. Col. Matt Hayden, the 56th Training Squadron director of
operations. "It's a buildup approach training, where we start with
academics, move to hands-on training with the simulators, and finally to
the aircraft. 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
The students will learn various systems throughout the aircraft and how
they work together. Hydraulics, electrical, engine and flight controls
are systems every pilot must understand prior to taking their first
"Initially the training will be focused on understanding the airplane:
how to take off, land, fly formation and how to interact with all the
sensors on the aircraft," Hayden said. "As the training progresses we
look at a tactical approach, as far as how to employ the airplane
air-to-air, air-to-ground, what the capabilities and limitations of the
aircraft are, and how to communicate.
"The tools in the ATC are set up to help immerse the students in the
aircraft environment in an academic way," Hayden said. "The student
stations in each of the classrooms have large monitors and a stick and
throttle. In addition to that, the instructor at the front of the
classroom has a couple of projectors which enable him to bring up a
console, or any of the students' consoles, to talk about what the
student sees on the displays."
The displays are a panoramic touch screen and can be customized to every scenario.
"The displays can also be manipulated using the stick and throttle which
gives students a way to familiarize themselves with the glass display
and build comfort with the 'switch-ology' of the aircraft," Hayden said.
"We want to get the students familiarized with all of these things long
before they get into the aircraft or even the simulator. It helps them
understand how that interface works between the pilot and the airplane."
The training in total, from academics to simulators to flightline, takes
approximately three months. This first class is training to become
flight ready with the F-35, but to also 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."
The students have many challenges ahead of them to become F-35 pilots,
as well as become knowledgeable enough to lead and instruct future
"It's exciting to be the first class at Luke," said Maj. Eric Puels, a
944th Operations Group Detachment 2 student. "A couple of us have been
part of this program since 2008 and we're looking forward to hitting the
ground running. It was extremely competitive to apply to become an F-35
pilot, let alone to be accepted. My father was a fighter pilot, he flew
F-4 Phantoms, so I always wanted to fly the best fighters and the F-35
is the best."