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Full Circle: Air Force F-35 Pilots Join F-35 Training Team

The best companies are always built with top-tier talent, and Lockheed Martin just hired the first-ever retired U.S. Air Force F-35 pilots to support the F-35 training mission.

Todd LaFortune and Christine Mau will soon be fully qualified as Lockheed Martin F-35 Training instructors at the Academic Training Center (ATC) at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

LaFortune, who flew F-16s before flying the F-35A with the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin, actually helped set up the ATC as the U.S. Air Force pilot training lead there a few years ago.

“I knew many of the great people who worked on F-35 training here,” he said. “I knew what to expect and that’s what made me want to come back.”

As part of the initial cadre of pilots for the Air Force, LaFortune is beginning to see how much the F-35 and the Training System have progressed since the early days of the program. Both he and Mau will have to complete the entire training program again and for LaFortune, roughly 60 percent of the academics are new, as none of the warfighting capabilities and new tactics were available when he was training. Seeing the program develop over time from the military point-of-view allows these pilots to share their real-world flying experience with students in the classroom.

“Any time you can say you’ve been there and experienced it, that new perspective elevates the training for the students,” he said.

LaFortune said simulation is critically important to F-35 training because it’s not practical to train for some scenarios using live assets.

“We have a great airplane that flies easy, and the simulators our team is building are very realistic,” LaFortune said. “We’re not just using that simulation technology at Eglin, these exact simulators are at Hill Air Force Base supporting the CAF (combat Air Force) – that’s a big deal.”