F-35 Training Ready for Take Off at MCAS Beaufort

MCAS Beaufort in South Carolina welcomes the F-35 Lightning II for pilot training and a new era for Marine Corps aviation

The U.S. Marine Corps is poised to open the doors of the first dedicated F-35B Pilot Training Center at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort, South Carolina, to train the next generation of pilots flying the F-35 Lightning II.

Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501) has begun its planned relocation to the air station from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, to train pilots for the first operational F-35 squadron and the Marines’ military instructor cadre. Serving as the hub for F-35B pilot training, MCAS Beaufort will also host international pilots flying the short takeoff and vertical landing F-35 variant.

Already, MCAS Beaufort has conducted pilot training dry runs in preparation for the start of formal training in October 2014, says Lt. Col. Luis Villalobos, site director for the F-35B Pilot Training Center and an F-35 instructor pilot.

“Efforts so far have been focused on validating the F-35 Block 2A syllabus and our processes, and we are proceeding to an on-time ready for training,” said Villalobos. “We are putting all the pieces in place to quickly ramp up the training program.”

The air station plans to qualify 15 pilots in its first year of operation, leading to a throughput of 60 graduates per year. While at Eglin Air Force Base, VMFAT-501 has qualified a total of 45 F-35B pilots to date – 41 from the Marine Corps and four from the U.K.

Inside the F-35 Full Mission Simulator

Inside the F-35 Full Mission Simulator

The F-35 full mission simulator is the highest fidelity trainer in the F-35 pilot training technology suite, replicating all sensors and weapons deployment. As a first for military aviation, the full mission simulator is being developed in concert with the F-35 platform. The simulator and the aircraft use the same software for cost effectiveness and to provide pilots with training on new capabilities as they are introduced to the fleet. With 360-degree visuals, the full mission simulator presents an immersive environment for initial, transition, refresher, continuation and mission rehearsal training.

“The biggest difference with ALIS is that many sources of data are combined into one application and decisions can be made in minutes,” says Helfst. “Legacy platforms have typically used several information systems.”

The benefit, says Helfst, is that maintainers and military leaders have a higher fidelity of information about their aircraft, which helps the services reduce operating costs and increase aircraft availability.

For instance, the Electronic Equipment Logs within ALIS track the maintenance history of each part, says Helfst. This data can be analyzed to pinpoint trends and better determine the life expectancy of parts.

“Maintainers have a prominent role on the F-35,” says Helfst. “Because they are providing maintenance details in ALIS as they service the jets, maintainers are the eyes and ears for aircraft reliability.”

Helfst and his team now have new software to validate. The next evolution of ALIS was delivered to Edwards Air Force Base and Naval Air Station Patuxent River in early September. This software introduces high-speed flight data downloads for increased aircraft availability. It also provides each nation flying the F-35 with advanced reporting features for fleet management and trend analysis.

After the U.S. Air Force and Navy validate the new ALIS software, it will be installed at all F-35 locations and support military operations with the U.S. Marine Corps beginning in 2015.

“F-35 maintainers across the board are extremely dedicated and driven to create a legacy of excellence,” says Helfst. “That’s what motivates the Lockheed Martin team to deliver the most effective fleet management system with ALIS.”