F-35C Pilots Praise Simulator’s Capabilities

(SEAPOWER 24 JUN 13) … Richard R. Burgess

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Navy’s first F-35C Lightning II joint strike fighter squadron commanding officer instructor pilot says the aircraft’s cockpit simulator will be “light years ahead of earlier simulators.”

“The simulator is very good,” said Capt. John Enfield, commanding officer of the Navy’s F-35C fleet readiness squadron Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101. “Given the advanced capabilities that this aircraft brings to the fight, there are a lot of things that are best trained in the simulator anyway. From a basic flying skills standpoint it’s great, and from an advanced combat standpoint it is light years ahead of anything we’ve seen previously.”

Enfield briefed reporters in a June 24 teleconference at the squadron’s home at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., along Lt. Cmdr. Chris Tabert, a former F-35C developmental test pilot and currently the only qualified F-35C pilot in the squadron, and Capt. Paul Haas, vice commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin.

Tabert flew the first production F-35C, designated CF-06, from the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas, to Eglin on June 22. The aircraft is one of the Low-Rate Initial Production 4 aircraft and is equipped with Block 2A software.

“The simulator here is unlike any simulator I’ve flown before,” Tabert said. “It’s high fidelity. All the tasks that are required to safely operate the aircraft can be done in the simulator. It’s very close to how the airplane actually flies. You have full 360-degree views. You can tank [aerial refuel] in it. We won’t have an issue training pilots predominantly in the simulator and having less time in the airplane.”

VFA-101 will be equipped with 15 F-35Cs within 18 to 24 months, with six or seven expected to be on strength by the end of this year. The first four F-35Cs assigned to the squadron eventually will participate in the aircraft’s Operational Test, according to Enfield. They already are equipped with wiring for the instrumentation required for the tests.

Four VFA-101 future instructor pilots have completed the F-35C academic and simulator syllabi and will begin flights in the F-35C as early as August, Enfield said. Four more F-35C pilots are in academic and simulator training.

VFA-101 also will train Marine Corps pilots in the F-35C beginning in 2015 or 2016.

VFA-101 eventually will take pilots to carrier qualifications after the new design of an F-35C tailhook is cleared for service. The hook will be tested by developmental test pilots in carrier landings next summer. Tabert said VFA-101 expects to begin carrier qualifications in mid-to-late 2015.


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