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First F-35C passes TOPGUN course ahead of fleet introduction

Sailors direct an F-35C Lightning II on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (Source: US Department of Defense)

US Navy pilots from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125 “Rough Raiders” and VFA-147 “Argonauts” were the first TOPGUN students to complete the course in the F-35C Lightning II.

US Navy pilots from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125 “Rough Raiders” and VFA-147 “Argonauts” were the first TOPGUN students to complete the course in the F-35C Lightning II.

Major Derek Heinz from the Rough Raiders and Lieutenant William Goodwin III from the Argonauts successfully completed the 13-week Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor (SFTI) course at the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC) at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.

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The SFTI course, otherwise known as TOPGUN, is an individual-level training course loaded with classroom lectures and labs, as well as simulated and live-fly events that are focused on the newest advanced tactical recommendations, and designed to create newly-minted tactics instructors who are ready to return and train the fleet.

NAWDC TOPGUN Department Head, Commander Timothy Myers, said, "Our focus on the students that go through TOPGUN is not limited to teaching them the tactics, techniques and procedures that are required for them to successfully employ their aircraft, integrated into a larger force."

For the last few years, NAWDC and TOPGUN have been working to develop the skill sets, curriculum and experienced instructors required to execute a syllabus that fully integrates F-35C tactics, techniques and procedures.

While all F-35C tactics instructors have completed the TOPGUN course previously, this is the first time TOPGUN has graduated students who are currently flying the Lightning II, utilising a syllabus that has been developed, from the ground up, specifically for F-35C integrated operations.

"We are also in the business of teaching our graduates how to instruct other students, so that when they go back to the fleet, they are able to instruct at a very high level," CMDR Myers added. 

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This was accomplished by the gradual introduction of F-35C tactics into the training curriculum for previous classes. The result is a cadre of highly-trained instructors executing a fully-integrated F-35C syllabus, providing well-rounded “graduate-level” training for the fifth-generation fighter to take back to the fleet.

CMDR Myers explained, "Graduating Strike Fighter Tactics Instructors allows us to accelerate learning by feeding TOPGUN training back to the fleet, elevating the lethality and survivability of both the individual aircraft as well as the Carrier Strike Group.

"The Lightning II proved its value to the Navy during every phase of the TOPGUN course, and its integration with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, E/A-18G Growler and E-2C/D Hawkeye demonstrated that the powerful combination of fourth and fifth generation fighters, with advanced electronic attack, and command and control, is a force-multiplier against advanced threats."

The F-35C combines this unique capability of operating from a carrier deck with the unmatched fifth-generation capabilities of stealth, fused sensors and reliability, making the F-35C the Navy’s future first-day-of-the-war strike fighter.

The Navy and Marines require an aircraft capable of overcoming a variety of threats — surface-to-air missiles, air-to-air missiles and tactical aircraft. By leveraging this potent combination of stealth, advanced jamming and threat system destruction, the F-35C enhances survivability and increases mission success rates.

The F-35C variant has larger wings and more robust landing gear than the other variants, making it suitable for catapult launches and fly-in arrestments aboard naval aircraft carriers. Its wingtips also fold to allow for more room on the carrier’s deck while deployed.

The F-35C also has the greatest internal fuel capacity of the three F-35 variants. The F-35C carries nearly 10,000 litres of internal fuel for longer range and better persistence than any other fighter in a combat configuration. 

First F-35C passes TOPGUN course ahead of fleet introduction
F-35CCarrierLaunch.jpg
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