The service is already flying aircraft using the limited 2A software release at Eglin AFB, Fla., for pilot and maintenance training, and at Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron 121 in Yuma, Ariz. Though the software fielded is limited — allowing for basic takeoffs, approaches and familiarization flights — the F-35 simulators fielded for training already include a version of the more advanced 3F software package. Lockheed Martin is still working to compete the operational release of the software, but Schmidle says what has been included in the simulator is allowing for pilots to begin training beyond the capabilities of the aircraft. Ultimately, this should ease the transition from IOC in December 2015 to a full operational capability (FOC) later with the 3F software package, which includes more advanced electronic warfare options and a full weapons suite. “We are designing and flying tactics that we probably won’t fly in the airplane [soon] with the simulators,” Schmidle says. “FOC will be a natural extension of what we are doing” now at Yuma.
Advances in simulator technology have allowed for the equipment to go from being a tool in the past used to train pilots in procedures, to now being useful for advanced tactics training. Ultimately, 52% of the training syllabus for the F-35B will be handled in the simulator, also reducing the CPFH for the aircraft.