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388th Fighter Wing share F-35A, fighter pilot life with students in training

A-10 Thunderbolt II and F-35 Lightning II fly side by side together through the sky over Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, Oct. 13, 2020. The pilots flew over the base to show the capabilities of the jets to the student pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Phaff)

A-10 Thunderbolt II and F-35 Lightning II fly side by side together through the sky over Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, Oct. 13, 2020. The pilots flew over the base to show the capabilities of the jets to the student pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Phaff)

Capt. Kristin Wolfe, F-35A demonstration team pilot, a Laughlin graduate of SUPT class 12-15, talks about life as a fighter pilot to 47th Student Squadron students, 2nd Lt. Samantha Ess and 2nd Lt. Hayden Gebo. “We hope this was an exciting, encouraging experience for all of the students,” said Wolfe. “Our goal is to provide a fighter pilot perspective while also giving an overview of the jet’s capabilities to motivate future Air Force pilots.” (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Anne McCready)

Capt. Kristin Wolfe, F-35A demonstration team pilot, a Laughlin graduate of SUPT class 12-15, talks about life as a fighter pilot to 47th Student Squadron students, 2nd Lt. Samantha Ess and 2nd Lt. Hayden Gebo. “We hope this was an exciting, encouraging experience for all of the students,” said Wolfe. “Our goal is to provide a fighter pilot perspective while also giving an overview of the jet’s capabilities to motivate future Air Force pilots.” (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Anne McCready)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Students in Air Force undergraduate pilot training programs were able to get an up-close and personal look at America’s most advanced fifth-generation stealth aircraft this week thanks to pilots from Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

Four F-35A’s, piloted by company grade officers from the 388th Fighter Wing, including the wing’s U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team, visited Laughlin AFB, Texas, and Vance AFB, Okla.

Two demonstration team jets were already in Texas, performing at air shows in Houston and Fort Worth, and were joined by two other jets from Hill mid-week.

“This is something we’ve been wanting to do for the students and instructors for a while,” said Col. Steven Behmer, 388th Fighter Wing commander. “We saw this as a good opportunity to not only educate the students on the capabilities of the F-35, but as importantly, have some younger pilots talk to them about the career they can expect if they are able to take the fighter track.”

Students in UPT are schooled in the academics of flying, ground training, primary flight techniques, and advanced flight techniques in the T-6 Texan, before moving on to specialized flying training in their chosen or assigned platform. The T-1 for tanker and transport aircraft and the T-38 for future fighter and bomber pilots.  

“We hope this was an exciting, encouraging experience for all of the students. I didn’t see any fighter aircraft while I was in UPT, so it’s really special to land jets at these three bases,” said Capt. Kristin Wolfe, F-35A demonstration team pilot. “Sometimes in UPT, it was difficult to determine what the actual day-in-a-life is like for pilots of the various aircraft communities. Our goal was to provide a fighter pilot prospective while also giving an overview of the jet’s capabilities to motivate future Air Force pilots.”

During the visits, the pilots provided students a walk-around tour of the F-35A, accompanied by separate briefing sessions highlighting the jet’s capabilities. They also talked to students about the daily life of a fighter pilot.

The F-35s were also accompanied by two A-10s from the U.S. Air Force A-10 Demonstration Team. The teams were scheduled to visit Shepard AFB, Texas, as well but had to cancel due to dangerously high winds.

Second Lt. Steven Fleming, 47th Student Squadron student pilot, always wanted to be in the military, and found his home in the 159th Fighter Squadron, Jacksonville Air National Guard Base, Florida. Currently, he is in pilot training at Laughlin AFB and is set transition to fighters.

He and the other students greatly appreciated the fighters thinking of them and coming down to give them a demo, capabilities briefing, and a chance to see what being a fighter pilot is like.

“The F-35’s and A-10’s that came to Laughlin gave me extra motivation,” Fleming said. “It reminded me I won’t always be here as a student, and seeing their performance gave me a tangible goal to keep working toward.”

The 47th FTW/PA office contributed to this story.