Thursday, May 06, 2010

General sees opportunity, innovation at F-35 training wing

by Ashley M. Wright, 96th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- The commander of Air Education and Training Command visited the 33rd Fighter Wing April 26 here.

General Stephen R. Lorenz visited Eglin Air Force Base to observe how the wing staff is taking "the opportunity to shape the future," by training pilots and maintainers on the F-35 Lightning II.

"(The wing's mission connects to) not just a larger Air Force mission, but a larger (Department of Defense) mission, because they have the opportunity to shape the future on how we fly, maintain and integrate the F-35 across all the services including international (partners) that will be coming here," General Lorenz said.

More than 2,100 F-35 pilots and maintainers are projected to annually train on the fifth generation aircraft when the wing reaches full capacity in 2014.

Officials from the Air Force, Marines, Navy and international partner nations are set to send their students to Eglin AFB for instruction on the F-35.

"General Lorenz's positive feedback and motivation couldn't have been timelier," said Col. David Hlatky, the 33rd Fighter Wing commander. "Our folks are feeling the drain of driving integration and best practices for F-35 training. At the same time they are bedding down new equipment and learning complex new systems. When the four-star validated their innovative concepts, thanked them for the effort and then asked how he can help, everyone got a lift."

Included in the general's visit was a 33rd FW "all hands" call where he addressed more than 200 Airmen, Marines, Sailors, contract partners and one Soldier.

"It was a lot of insight on how he sees things," said Marine Cpl. Lewis McCormick, from the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501. "He talked about how it was important for us being the first boots on the ground and setting the tone for future joint operations. It made me a little more proud to be a part of this organization."

Like all new ventures, challenges are bound to arise, the general said.

"There are lots of challenges whenever you bring new weapons systems on board," he said. "There are challenges on the integration of the services and the international (partners), how we are going to share the ranges around here, how we are going to share the runways."

"A lot of great leaders from the all the services are working these issues on a day-to-day basis and are doing a great job," General Lorenz said. "As a team, I expect them to build a foundation for others in the future to move the ball down the field. They are going to have an opportunity to shape the future. That opportunity is only given to a few people, especially in such a large defense program like the (joint strike fighter), which is the largest defense program in the DOD at this time."

To keep pace with the expanding realm of technology, AETC officials recently added a fourth core competency; innovation, the general said.

As 33rd FW members prepare to continue their air power dominance for the next half century by training aviators and maintainers on the joint strike fighter, the general forecasted innovation on a multitude of levels.

"This is a perfect example with the leveling off top lines of the DOD budget: where they have to think faster, better and cheaper in order to accomplish the same mission in the 21st century," General Lorenz said. "Building and bringing the F-35 to Eglin (AFB) and the 33rd FW is on the cutting edge of all these issues, and they are on the forefront of innovation."

The 33rd Fighter Wing staff ceased operations of the F-15 Eagle in September 2009 and became the DOD's first F-35 training wing Oct. 1, 2009. The F-35 establishment at Eglin AFB stems from a 2005 Base Realignment and Closure directive.