Want To Pilot America's F-35 Stealth Fighter?

Mark Episkopos

Key point: F-35 instructors don’t see prior piloting experience as an advantage.

America’s fifth-generation F-35 fighter has occupied the headlines largely for its technical progress, and rightly so; from weapons systems to radar technology, there’s a lot to write about. Particularly popular-- and not always positive-- are cost analyses, but these often gloss over a different kind of human cost: the grueling years of study and training required to pilot an advanced modern fighter like the F-35.

Putting a human face on the F-35 program is precisely the purpose of a recent string of small promotional videos, released by the 56th Fighter Wing garrisoned in Luke Air Force Base.

Their initial qualification video wastes no time in setting the tone for the level of commitment expected from prospective pilots: “only the best of the best get into the F-35 initial qualification course (IQC) at Luke Air Force Base, where aviators come to be a part of an elite group of fighter pilots.” Nor is this an empty boast: The F-35 Initial Qualification Training (IQT) requires the completion of 156 events, totaling 306 hours over the span of eight months.

Interestingly, F-35 instructors don’t see prior piloting experience as an advantage. Quite the contrary, explains 56th Training Squadron commander Matthew Hayden: “Pilots that are fresh out of pilot training have an advantage because since they have no fighter jet experience, they are able to better absorb what we teach them and don’t come with habits that more experienced fighter pilots may bring when learning a new platform.”

F-35 IQT begins with a heavy focus on coursework, consisting of academics and simulators.  As students make their way through the training, they get more and more hands-on experience in piloting the F-35 through an increasingly difficult series of tasks.

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