By Airman 1st Class Heather Leveille, 33rd Fighter Wing
/ Published August 26, 2019
Several 33rd Fighter Wing F-35A Lightning IIs taxi down the Volk Field, Wisconsin. runway, during the Northern Lightning exercise, Aug. 13, 2019. Northern Lightning is a joint total force exercise that provides tactical-level, high-end training for current and future weapons platforms. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Heather Leveille)
A 33rd Fighter Wing F-35A Lightning II takes off during the Northern Lightning exercise at Volk Field, Wisconsin, Aug. 12, 2019. The Northern Lightning exercise brings together the joint total force of the next generation of air superiority. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Heather Leveille)
Student pilots from the 33rd Fighter Wing took their training on the road during joint force training exercise Northern Lightning here Aug. 12-23.
The goal of their involvement was to integrate fourth and fifth generation fighters, according to Capt. Emily Thompson, 33rd FW student pilot.
Northern Lightning is a joint training exercise between the Air Force, Air National Guard, Navy and Marine Corps, that tests fourth and fifth generation weapons platforms.
“The exercise is focused on air-to-surface integration and how our tactics work together with each other’s platforms to get the best results,” said Thompson.
Large scale exercises combined with joint forces can bring a unique training element for pilots at all skill levels.
“We are focusing on getting large force experience with F-35s," said Capt. Mitchell McKenzie, 33rd FW F-35A Lightning II student pilot. “The exercise we are here for is to build combat experience, because the more large-force exercises you have under your belt, the more likely you are to survive in a real combat scenario.”
The students at the 33rd FW are seasoned pilots making the jump to the fifth-generation stealth fighter. The wing’s flying training program helps pilots transition from one fighter jet to the next, based on skill level and flight hours.
“I am a part of the transition course at Eglin learning how to fly F-35,” said Thompson, who transitions from the F-16 to the F-35.
Joint training exercises allow pilots to work with many moving parts as well as a variety of aircraft.
“[The students] are here to build experience in the early stages of the program so that we can see what it looks like to have 20 enemy aircraft coming at you instead of the five or six we can normally get on a training basis back at home station,” said McKenzie.
Instructors try to give each class an opportunity to train in large scale exercises like Northern Lightning to enhance and help develop skill sets.
“The exercise gets you out of your comfort zone,” said McKenzie. “You fly so much at home you get comfy there, so it’s good to pack up and move, go to a new, unfamiliar place with unfamiliar procedures to help build your experience and confidence.”
The training and drive to be better than a peer can help bridge the confidence of working with different branches in the real-life combat settings.
“I feel I have gained a better understanding of how to work with other platforms,” said Thompson. “Any sort of integration training is a benefit to anyone’s growth as a pilot.”
The pilots from various platforms and branches worked together to combat adversary aircraft, electronic jamming and simulated surface-to-air threats.
“The mission is more complex,” said McKenzie. “More people to talk to on the radio and more agencies to check in with and it’s all to help simulate real-life combat.”