EGLIN AFB, FL. --- The 33rd Fighter Wing is hosting a large force exercise here January 29 through February 9, 2018.
The exercise is an opportunistic expansion of the wing's Lightning Top-Off Course, a program for new F-35A pilots to hone their skills ahead of reporting to their operational unit. This expanded course shortens the timeline to get pilots mission qualified (MQ) without sacrificing quality training during a time when pilot shortages are being felt across the Air Force.
"There are inherent challenges when our fighter pilot manning is stretched thin and we attempt to strike a perfect equilibrium between pilot production and pilot absorption. Because the operational F-35 community is still relatively small, yet growing rapidly, when we forecast this getting out of balance we need to move rapidly and take steps to minimize the impacts on the warfighters," said Colonel Paul Moga, 33 FW commander.
"Expanding LiTOC from its typical academic and simulator training to actual live-fly missions enables us to better meet the needs of our customer-the CAF. This exercise utilizes extra sorties that were carved out months ago and gives pilots more realistic, high-end combat training before they arrive to their squadrons," Moga said. And, because this was planned so far in advance, there is no impact to the wing's more routine program flying training production timelines.
The exercise was developed specifically for pilots reporting to Hill AFB, the nation's only operational F-35A unit.
"Historically, after pilots finished their formal training unit syllabus they still needed mission qualification training after reporting to their operational squadron, which could take up to three months and 12 flights," said Major Brian Burgoon, 33nd Wing weapons officer. "Through this expanded LiTOC, the pilots are getting six of those 12 flights, easing the burden of MQ training and taking some of the pressure off of our only operational F-35 wing."
This two-week exercise will include aircraft from 10 units throughout the southeast from U.S. Navy and Air Force active and reserve components.