Weapon Systems

Superior pilot training sets F-35A fighter ahead of competition


More than 2,000 pilots and 14,000 repair personnel, all trained to phenomenal levels, keep an unparalleled fighter jet far ahead of any imagined rivals.

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A pilot prepares to take off in an F-35A Lightning II in 2021. [US Air Force]
A pilot prepares to take off in an F-35A Lightning II in 2021. [US Air Force]

In addition to the F-35A Lightning II's superior technology, stealth and firepower, unparalleled pilot training sets it ahead of the world's other fighter jets.

"Pilots begin their training in classrooms with training aids and interactive courseware to learn basic skills, switchology and fundamental procedures," says Lockheed Martin, the maker of the F-35.

"Pilots then progress to the F-35 Full Mission Simulator with a 360-degree visual display system, which accurately replicates all sensors and weapons employment and uses the same software as the aircraft."

Preparing pilots to take to the skies for the first time is no easy feat.

A pilot in training with an F-35 simulator at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. [US Air Force]
A pilot in training with an F-35 simulator at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. [US Air Force]

Before flying the aircraft, pilots must undergo 192 hours of academic and simulator-based training, according to the Air Force.

Fifty hours of flying are needed to complete the course, and almost half are accredited through the F-35 Full Mission Simulator, an immersive technology designed to replicate the hardware of the F-35.

In April, the 2,000th pilot graduated from the F-35 training course.

Today, there are more than 2,000 pilots and more than 14,000 maintainers from 10 nations -- the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea and Denmark.

With 24 current training bases and sights set on 32 total by 2025, the number of F-35 pilots and maintainers will continue to increase for years to come.

US Air Force F-35A pilots are among the best trained in the world, with each receiving between 180 and 250 flight hours at minimum each year.

Every pilot, no matter how skilled, depends on the plane's maintenance.

So maintenance personnel are trained rigorously as well. Their regimen provides "both high-fidelity virtual training for core tasks and hands-on training using to-scale F-35mock-ups", Lockheed Martin said in a handout.


With such training, F-35A pilots can potentially target aircraft behind them.

The F-35 is equipped with the Distributed Aperture System (DAS), which is the only 360 degree, spherical situational awareness system, according to jsf.com.

The DAS surrounds the aircraft with a protective sphere of situational awareness, warning the pilot of incoming enemy aircraft and missile threats as well as "providing day/night vision, fire control capability and precision tracking of wingmen/friendly aircraft for increased tactical manoeuvring".

Also known as the AN/AAQ-37, the DAS is made up of six electro-optical sensors.

The ability to detect enemies coming from behind is just one factor in such a scenario.

The F-35A, like the F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter, can handle turns at 9 G's (or nine times the force of gravity) at full load.

Those demanding turns enable the planes to escape a pursuer or to defeat an outclassed, slower rival in many scenarios.

Meanwhile, many of the F-35A's air-to-air missiles, such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM and the AIM-9X Sidewinder, have a high "off-boresight" capability, or the ability to be fired at an extreme angle away from the plane's line of sight.

Most advanced military aircraft

The F-35 is one of the most versatile and advanced military aircraft in the world, designed to meet the diverse needs of modern military operations.

The F-35's primary mission is air-to-air combat. With its advanced stealth capabilities and sophisticated sensors, it is designed to operate undetected in hostile airspace, engage and defeat enemy fighters, and provide air superiority for friendly forces.

The aircraft is equipped with advanced radar systems and avionics that enable it to detect and track enemy aircraft at long ranges, as well as advanced weapon systems that allow it to engage and destroy enemy fighters with precision and speed.

The F-35 is also highly effective in air-to-ground strikes. It is equipped with precision-guided bombs and missiles that enable it to engage and destroy ground targets with great accuracy, even in adverse weather conditions or low visibility.

It also can detect and identify enemy targets from long distances, and has sophisticated data links that allow it to share information with other aircraft and ground-based command and control centres.

The Lightning II has three variants.

The F-35A, used by the US Air Force, is the conventional takeoff and landing variant.

The US Marine Corps uses F-35Bs, which "can land vertically like a helicopter and take off in very short distances. This allows it to operate from austere, short-field bases and a range of air-capable ships", according to Lockheed Martin.

The third variant is the US Navy's F-35Cs, the carrier variant, which can take off from any US aircraft carrier anywhere on earth.

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