Inside the F-35: Pilot Training

Published 02/02 2014 08:07PM

Updated 02/03 2014 12:10AM

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - While F-35s are not expected to arrive in Vermont until 2020, those who will fly or fix them will require extensive training before hand.

The Air Force chose the Vermont Air National Guard as the first guard unit in the nation to receive the new fighter jets.

Before the 18 new F-35's arrive in Vermont, there will be a lot of change.

In the next two years about $4.5-million in construction will start at the Air Guard.

And then the training begins.

Right now, there's only one location in the nation for that. We traveled to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida for a look at what it takes to fly a fighter jet.

The F-35 Lightning II is what people in the Air Force call "a game changer."

"This airplane is going to be the future of manned fighter flight," says Colonel Todd Canterbury, 33rd Fighter Wing Commander.

Canterbury should know. He not only flies the F-35, he commands the 33rd Fighter Wing which as of now runs the only training program for F-35 pilots.

"How important is this training center, you know, to the success of the program?" asked FOX44/ABC22's Matt Austin.

"Well this is critical. This is the foundation of the next 50-years of F-35 operations. If we don't get this foundation right, the next 50-years is going to fixing the mess that we made," says Canterbury.

Here at Eglin on the Florida panhandle, pilots arrive at the training facility for classroom time.

"It would be like going through a car class. You learn about the engine. Then you learn about the power drive system for it. Then you learn about the tires," says Lieutenant Colonel Matt Renbarger, 58th Fighter Squadron Commander.

This is no normal school. It's a 58-million dollar state of the art facility.

There are a lot of things about the F-35 that remain confidential. That's why even at the training center there were some areas we were not allowed to go to.

One was the simulators.

"It's 30ish hours of simulator time before you touch an airplane," says Renbarger.

Renbarger is an F-35 pilot and commands the 58th Fighter Squadron.

"There are very few differences between what's being simulated and what you see when you get out to the jet for the first time," says Renbarger.

"What do you think is the hardest thing to learn about the planes?" asked Austin.

"The hardest thing is probably is the new avionics. There's a touch screen on the F-35. It's basically like two iPads next to each other," says Renbarger.

Like most people here right now, Renbarger has a lot of experience. He spent 12-years in the F-16.

"How would you describe the change over of going from the 16s to the 35s?" asked Austin.

"It was actually a lot easier than I thought," says Renbarger.

Right now, experienced pilots spend six weeks in the classrooms, newer ones will stay longer. Once it is over it's time to fly and it starts with a mission briefing.

Pilots fly alone in the jet. Six rides, lasting about an hour each, are needed to pass F-35 training.

"The F-35 is one of the easiest aircraft I've ever flown. I've flown the F-15, F-16, and now the F-35," says Canterbury.

It's fast and can reach speeds of more than one-thousand miles an hour and eventually will be able to pull 9G's.

For the next fifty-years, pilots will fly the F-35 and for now they're getting their start in Florida.

"To be at the forefront of the F-35 training center has been an amazing experience," says Canterbury.

Right now training lasts a couple months. But it will last longer as the plane is ok'd to do more and requires pilots to learn more.

Copyright 2015 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.