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New tech-advanced classroom awaits F-35 students

June 2, 2010 (by Ashley M. Wright) - A foundation for how the first generation of F-35 pilots and maintainers trains for the next half century continues to evolve here as the 33rd Fighter Wing adds state of the art technology to the classroom arsenal.

Maj. Eric Smith, 58th FS assistant operations director, flies the 33rd FW mission rehearsal trainer for the F-35 during a demonstration on May 27th, 2010. The trainer will use state of the art technology to further familiarize students with the Joint Strike Fighter. [USAF photo by Ashley M. Wright]

"The technology is fabulous. It brings us to a revolutionary new capability that's going to define the free world's fighter for the next 35 to 50 years," said Col. David Hlatky, 33rd FW commander. "The [new devices] are interesting to say the least; there are some leaps in technology in both the aircraft and in the ways we are going to teach."

The first F-35 mission rehearsal trainer recently arrived to the wing and was demonstrated to an international press pool. The trainer is one of several devices that will be used to train pilots on the F-35 Lightning II. The machine replicates the cockpit of an F-35 and uses the same software and training systems used for flight. It is a containerized, forward-deployable version of the full mission simulator slated to arrive late this year. Both simulators have the same visual display system, but the MRT uses a smaller 108 degree by 50 degree out-the-window display, while the simulator uses a full 360 degree seamless dome to project images.

"Compared to the other airplanes I've flown, the F-16 and the A-10, the mission rehearsal trainer for the F-35 flies more like how I would envision a fifth generation fighter flying," said Maj. Eric Smith, 58th Fighter Squadron assistant operations director. "It is just like flying a formation off a tanker or something in an F-16...It is great."

Contractors creating the trainer's software took cameras out during daylight and nighttime hours to capture the most realistic pictures of Eglin possible, said Greg Wilder, Lockheed Martin lead instructor for the MRT. The trainer even shows grease and skid marks on the runway.

The trainer is one of many technological steps for three U.S. military services and eight partner nations purchasing the Joint Strike Fighter. From their arrival at the 33rd Academic Training Center, students will interact with the latest technology, receiving laptops from the registrar's office instead of books.

"You are looking at a pretty advanced 21st century classroom. You will notice there are no pads, no pens on the desk, no books," said Marine Col. Arthur Tomassetti, 33rd FW vice commander. "The students, whether they are pilots or maintainers, are going to start in a state-of-the-art electronic classroom."

The high-tech, uncluttered environment is a stark contrast to traditional training methods using chalk boards, stacks of books, poster-sized visual aids and cockpit mock-ups.

"I went through flight training in the A-10 in 1996," Major Smith said. "Back then, there was no simulator for the A-10. It was a cockpit procedure trainer that you just threw switches and nothing really happened. The academics were all on view graphs. They would put things on the slide projector, and it would go up on the screen. It was all grease pencils and view graphs."

Touch screen technology on desktop pilot training aids in the classrooms replaces the grease pencils and graphs.

The computers and controls, which will be in every classroom, run the same software as the actual F-35, said Maj. Matt W. Renbarger, 58th Fighter Squadron Weapons and Tactics chief.

"What is unique about this system is that the way you are learning on the pilot training aide, the way you are learning on the MRT, will look the same [as] when you get to the airplane because it is running the same software," major said.

The core cadre of instructor pilots will spend the summer working through dry runs of the courseware, said Colonel Tomassetti.

When the wing reaches full strength in 2014, it will train Air Force, Marine, Navy and international partner operators and maintainers of the F-35 Lightning II.

Courtesy of Team Eglin Public Affairs

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