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The 2,000th pilot has graduated through the F-35 training system, the aircraft’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, announced on 24 April 2023.

The pilot in question was Major Chris ‘Blade’ Jeffers, who completed his training at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona and will operate the F-35A for the US 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,” Major Jeffers was quoted as saying in a Lockheed Martin press release. “The situational awareness and capabilities that the F-35 offers would take multiple F-16s.”

“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,” the company stated. “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. Utilising simulations reduces cost and overall wear to the jets, allowing fleets to stay mission-ready and pilots to maintain their skills.”

US Air Force Major Chris Jeffers, a 62nd Fighter Squadron pilot, poses in front of an F-35A Lightning II at Luke AFB on 17 April 2023, shortly after becoming the 2,000th F-35 pilot to graduate on the aircraft. (Photo: USAF)

The training load borne by simulators is significant for the F-35 as there are no two-seat conversion training versions of the aircraft.

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 compared with fourth-generation aircraft. Lockheed Martin asserts that it is using simulation to redefine how pilots train to provide the range of experience they need to maximise the capabilities of the F-35 and conduct every flight safely.

“Today, there are over 2,000 pilots and over 14,000 maintainers trained from 10 nations: the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea, and Denmark,” Lockheed Martin stated. “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.”

Peter Felstead