Development of a training pipeline for pilots and maintainers for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter remains on track despite the recent problems with the jet’s cost and development schedule.
“Our focus has remained the same — to be ready when that first jet arrives,” said Navy Capt. Mike Saunders, deputy commander of the 33rd Operations Group, based at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
Saunders is helping oversee the joint command that is standing up the F-35’s first fleet training squadrons for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
All three services plan to begin flying the F-35 within the next two years, Saunders said.
The first simulators arrived in late March, he said.
The Marine Corps’ training squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, stood up April 2, making the Corps the second service to formally create a training unit. The Air Force created the 58th Fighter Squadron last year. The Navy’s Strike Fighter Squadron 101 will stand up next year.
The Air Force and Marine Corps have several pilots at Eglin for training. The Navy, which will be the last service to put the F-35 into operation, expects to send its first pilots to the Florida base early next year.
The timeline for the training wing has not changed despite the wrangling among Washington bureaucrats about the shortcomings of the F-35 program, which is run by Lockheed Martin. Pentagon officials added 13 months to the fighter jet’s development schedule and warned that it may cost much more than initially thought.
The 33rd Fighter Wing staff and squadrons have 141 total personnel for all three services. Hangars, academic centers and a dining hall are under construction.
Initial staffers are developing standard operating procedures for the training squadrons, drawing up a curriculum and becoming technically familiar with the engine, software systems and other components of the new aircraft.
“We are really getting down into the devil in the details on this,” Saunders said.
Joint JSF Training
The joint training program for the F-35 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will include three separate training squadrons for the Air Force, Marines and Navy.
• Air Force: 58th Fighter Squadron stood up in October. Has seven officers and one enlisted airman. First F-35A expected to arrive this fall.
• Marine Corps: VMFA-501 stood up April 2. Has eight officers and 23 enlisted Marines. First F-35B expected to arrive spring 2011.
• Navy: VFA-101 stands up in October 2011. First pilots expected to arrive in early 2011. First F-35C expected to arrive in early 2012.