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Luke graduates first F-35A initial qualification course

F-35A Lightning II initial qualification course graduation

The first F-35A Lightning II initial qualification course pilots take a moment for a photo during the graduation ceremony at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 5, 2017. The pilots spent eight months completing over 300 hours of academics, 46 simulator events and 48 sorties to complete the training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Pedro Mota)

Luke graduates first F-35A initial qualification course

Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, the Air Education Training Command commander, speaks at the first F-35A Lightning II initial qualification course graduation Aug. 5, 2017, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The pilots spent eight months completing over 300 hours of academics, 46 simulator events and 48 sorties to complete the training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Pedro Mota)

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (AFNS) -- The 61st Fighter Squadron made history graduating the first F-35A Lightning II initial qualification course Aug. 5, 2017. After eight months of tremendous teamwork from across the 56th Fighter Wing, Luke Air Force Base produced six F-35A fighter pilots ready for the combat Air Force.

During the ceremony, Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, commander of Air Education and Training Command, spoke to graduates.

“This is a history making moment,” said Roberson. “From my perspective there will be people 20 to 30 years from now who will remember that you were in the first (F-35A Lightning II initial qualification course). It is really important for you to know that the F-35 is the future.”

During the course, Lockheed Martin instructor pilots taught the academic phase of training, consisting of more than 156 events totaling 308 hours. Academics focused on learning the basic aircraft systems, emergency procedures, local area procedures, mission systems, weapons and tactical employment.

Prior to the first flight in the Lightning II, each student completed 16 simulator events. The F-35 simulator provides a highly realistic and immersive experience that prepares each pilot for their first sortie in an aircraft.

“Each student flew at least 48 sorties totaling 77 hours,” said Lt. Col. Rhett Hierlmeier, the 61st FS commander. “Starting with the basics of taking off and landing, continuing across the full spectrum mission sets, and culminating in our Capstone phase of high-end employment. Along the way, our students dropped inert and live laser-guided GBU-12s, refueled from a KC-135 day and night and flew low-altitude step-down training.”

During the graduation, the six pilots were presented several awards including the Academic Award, presented to 1st Lt. Brett Burnside. The Academic Award is presented to the student with the highest average test score over five tests taken throughout the course.

“For B-Course graduates, you are going to be the one that everyone turns to,” said Roberson. “It won’t be long for the B-Course group to turn to you to find the answers about that airplane. You need to be the ones that step up and know the answers on a higher level. Don’t be shy, we need you to push the envelope on how to fly the F-35. We are teaching you everything we know about the F-35, you’re going to take us to another level.”

Hierlmeier gave a charge to the newly minted pilots as they move forward in their careers.

“I salute you for your hard work and commitment to excellence,” said Hierlmeier. “You have earned the title ‘F-35 fighter pilot,’ and you make us proud. You represent the hard work of the 56th Fighter Wing and (Luke AFB Airmen). Continue to learn and sharpen your sword, for there will likely be a day, sooner rather than later, when you will be tested. As you move on to your operational assignments remember that you wear our brand. Stay humble, fly, fight and win!”