EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Eielson Air Force Base was assigned its first F-35A Lightning II this month and the preparation for its arrival has been in the works for some time.
Since Eielson first received news that it would become the new home for the F-35 in 2016, units around the base have worked hard to ensure a smooth arrival. One example is the construction of a new F-35 simulator building which currently houses 4 operational simulator pods with two more scheduled to be running by the fall.
Flight simulators are an essential tool and an integral part of a pilot’s training because it allows them to hone critical skills in a safe environment. The simulators here at Eielson also help pilots become familiar with flying amongst the vast Alaskan landscape.
“Beyond basic [pilot] training, the simulator also allows pilots to practice skills that are not feasible in the actual aircraft,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Grant Saum, the 354th Fighter Wing F-35 Program Integration Office operations director. “These items include emergency procedures and fighting against advanced air and surface threats.”
The F-35 simulator also provides training to aircraft maintenance personnel who can practice fixing and troubleshooting issues like engine run-ups and avionic malfunctions. In January, formal maintenance training classes began in the new field training detachment facility.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the 354th FW has continued to prioritize the F-35 beddown and reach milestones associated with the advanced fighter’s arrival.
“The simulator was built to support the 354th FW’s goal of maintaining two combat-ready F-35 squadrons,” said Maj. Brian Mueller, 356th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations. “We can get really good at the basic tasks of weapons employment and refine our tactical game plans or ‘playbook’ without the added stress of being in combat.”
Forty-one projects supporting the F-35 mission have been completed or are on track to be finalized for the beddown.
As the days go by, the operations tempo is expected to pick up as more F-35s arrive and eventually start deploying. The 356th FS’s F-35s will also be a player in future Red Flag-Alaska exercises, increasing the overall readiness of exercise participants, including joint and international partners, ten-fold.