F-35A OUE Completed, Success Handed to AETC for Review

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A major step in building the Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II training program was accomplished when the 33rd Fighter Wing completed the service’s operational utility evaluation ahead of schedule Nov. 15.

Four pilots began training when the evaluation started Sept. 10, expecting it to last approximately 65 days. Six weeks of academic training and 24 sorties later, they are all fully-qualified F-35A pilots.

The training was comprised of academic, simulator and flying phases, designed to accomplish the initial transition qualification for experienced fighter pilots. Specifically, the Operational Utility Evaluation (OUE) was an independent assessment of the current status and capability of the F-35 Training System.

“We were able to conduct the flying portion in less than half the time than we planned for because things went so well with the flying, weather was good, maintainers were doing a great job getting jets out on the line and instructors were doing a good job of teaching these guys,” said Col. Andrew Toth, 33rd Fighter Wing commander.

From no experience to fully qualified joint strike fighter pilot was the hallmark of the success according to wing leaders and instructor pilots.

Lt. Col. Eric Smith, 58th Fighter Squadron director of operations and first Air Force F-35 instructor pilot, recalled leading one of four OUE students, Maj. Joseph Scholtz, during an Instrument qualification course Nov. 9.

 “Four weeks before the first pilot qualified, he was an A-10 pilot at Nellis Air Force Base (Nev.) and hadn’t been involved much in the F-35 program other than what he read in the news about what was going on,” said Smith. “The 33rd Fighter Wing testament to all of the hard work that has been going on here the last three and a half years of standing this place up, getting ready to train pilots, was when we took him out today and he pretty much flew a flawless F-35 mission. It’s also a testament to Lockheed Martin partners involved in helping the Nomads, the men and women of 33rd,  build a training system down here, develop it and go out and execute it.”

“The successful completion of the Air Force CTOL OUE is a very gratifying milestone for the entire F-35 Integrated Training Center (ITC) team,” said Mike Cabiness, Lockheed Martin F-35 Site Director at Eglin AFB. “We look forward to the declaration of Ready for Training and the opportunity to begin training the future F-35 Lightning II pilot and maintainer communities.”

During the flying portion, students demonstrated their ability to take off into restricted airspace, train flying in formation while airborne, conduct instrument approaches at a neighboring military base and clear the traffic pattern to land at Eglin. Their “check ride” was an hour-long flight culminating in full qualification to fly the F-35.

 Home to a full spectrum of advanced courseware and technology, the F-35 ITC includes electronic classrooms, Pilot Training Aids, Full Mission Simulators and the aircraft themselves. In the pilots’ simulators, much of the actual F-35 software is used to give students the most realistic experience possible and to allow software upgrades in step with F-35 development.

 “Training conducted here at Eglin then enables the rest of the Air Force organizations to start standing up too, begin their training and test and evaluation piece – big steps in the F-35 program,” said Toth.

Scholtz will give feedback, as others going through training do, before going back to his unit at Nellis, the 56th Test and Evaluation Squadron where the joint strike fighter will arrive next year.

The other qualified F-35A pilots trained during the OUE were Lt. Col. Brian ONeill of Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and Majors Cougar Wilson and Scout Johnston from the 33rd FW.

“A great part of all of this is the fantastic job of all the services. The OUE was a great couple of weeks flying, and we couldn’t ask for any more,” said Toth. “We are ready for the Joint Operational Test Team to write their report, provide us a quick-look out brief then formally brief our command on what they thought of the training system here. Once we receive the Air Education and Training Command's approval stating we are 'Ready For Training,' we can begin our first class.”

The sentiment was echoed by Mary Ann Horter, F-35 Sustainment vice president with Lockheed Martin Global Training and Logistics.

“Lockheed Martin F-35 training and sustainment technology is bringing revolutionary capability to the field. The system is more advanced than any training and logistics system and achieves a number of firsts, but more importantly, assures the future of U.S. and coalition air power. We are extremely proud of our team’s collective efforts to solidify the first F-35 ITC as a world class training center,” said Horter.

“Our team at Eglin Air Force Base - from ITC instructors to maintainers - have done amazing work to bring the program to this point. I want to thank each and every one of them for their dedication and determination to deliver on our promises.”