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.

The F-35B Pilot Training Center is home to the Lockheed Martin-developed training technology suite, including electronic classrooms and two high-fidelity full mission simulators. Currently, pilots transitioning to the F-35B are instructed in 17 simulator events, says Oscar Alvarez, Lockheed Martin contract instructor pilot at MCAS Beaufort.

“The F-35 has taken simulation to the next level,” said Alvarez. “The full mission simulator prepares pilots for the first flight through mission rehearsal as a key element to the training program, particularly since the F-35 is a single-seat fighter attack aircraft. Our job is to make sure F-35 pilots have the foundation they need to maximize the capabilities of this aircraft.”

The F-35B Pilot Training Center will initially qualify experienced fighter pilots transitioning from legacy platforms. Following experienced transition pilots, the Pilot Training Center will begin training new Marine graduates from the Naval Air Training Command flight school.

“The F-35 pilot training program at MCAS Beaufort cements the future of Marine Corps aviation,” said Villalobos. “Beaufort will be the center of excellence for F-35B training, preparing mission-ready Marines.”

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.

August 28, 2014