Pilots at the Pentagon's first Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter training unit at Eglin AFB, Florida, are gearing up to start an updated training syllabus that incorporates more of the jet's advanced avionics.
While F-35 students and instructors at the base currently use the rudimentary Block 1B configuration in their aircraft, later this year, the 33rd Fighter Wing will transition to operating the more advanced Block 2A configuration.
"We are going to transition to a Block 2A syllabus here in the late fall and early into next spring as we get the jets upgraded," says US Air Force Col Stephen Jost, commander of the 33rd Operations Group. The upgraded aircraft also means that the base's F-35 simulators and academic course have to be updated to incorporate the new systems.
As such, the F-35 Block 2A transition course will include flying three additional sorties over the current syllabus, which includes six flights. Those additional sorties will focus on using the F-35's Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL), which will enable pilots at the base to conduct more realistic tactical training in the F-35 for both air-to-air and air-to-surface missions.
"That will become operational with the 2A software, and so that is one of the key enablers that allows us to expand our mission set," Jost says.
Jost says that the Block 2A software is also expected to allow the F-35 fleet at Eglin AFB to operate at night. Pilots at the joint USAF, US Navy and Marine Corps operated fighter wing are also hoping for the release of additional flight envelope clearances. "We are hoping to get some relief on the flight controls," Jost says.
The expanded flight envelope - which will be released as test pilots put the three versions of the F-35 through its paces - should allow operational pilots to fly at higher angles of attack and possibly greater g-forces. The flight envelope currently released for training is severely restricted.
Jost could not offer any specific information on exactly how much of the F-35's flight envelope will be cleared for the pilots at the wing to use because such releases are often varied and incremental in nature.
The updated Block 2A syllabus will start clearing the way for the USMC to declare the short take-off and vertical landing(STOVL) F-35B variant of the jet operational in July 2015 with a Block 2B configuration. The USAF will declare the F-35A operational a year later in 2016 with the Block 3i configuration - which is the same software as Block 2B, but hosted on an upgraded computer system.