- U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. John R. Nimmo, Sr.
- Young pilots are now graduating training and going straight into F-35s, as opposed to previous generations of pilots that flew legacy airframes like F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s first.
- The new generation of pilots will revolutionize air combat in the F-35, according to former F-35 squadron commander David “Chip” Berke.
- Berke says the new pilots will overcome the biggest limitation of current F-35 pilots – not bringing old, bad habits with them from other aircraft.
The UK Ministry of Defense recently announced it had its first class of Royal Air Force graduates to exit training and go straight into flying the F-35, and a former F-35 squadron commander told Business Insider they’ll perform better than any pilots seen before.
David “Chip” Berke, a retired US Marine Corps Lt. Col. who flew F-18s off aircraft carriers, the F-22 Raptor, and became an F-35 squadron commander who helped write the book on F-35 tactics, said the new pilots represent the first generation of true fifth-generation fighters.
“Guys like me and everyone who’s ever transitioned” from flying a legacy airplane like an F-16, F-15, or F-18, are “always going to bring forward some habits,” from the old jet, said Berke. “A lot of those habits are going to be wrong.”
Berke often likens the gap between an F-18 and an F-35 to the gap between a wall phone and an iPhone, in that the F-35 represents such a game change that it takes some figuring out just how to use the fundamentally different set of capabilities.
Just as an aging generation is struggling with adapting to iPhones and giving up old habits, legacy pilots also carry outdated habits with them to the F-35, severely limiting their performance, according to Berke.
“They’re going to be your best, most effective tacticians,” Berke said of the new generation of pilots. Legacy pilots are “never going to be as good as them,” according to Berke.
For once, the F-35 will get an objective viewing by pilots not biased towards old school fighter jets.
“Every single thing everyone has ever said that’s a limitation of the F-35 has been wrong,” said Berke, who explained “they don’t understand the airplane.”
- Courtesy of David Berke
“They take this template they used in the past” to judge the F-35, Berke said. This leads to heated debates about thrust-to-weight ratios, wing loading, and other complicated metrics used to judge fighter performance.
But according to Berke, people who try to judge the F-35 by say, an F-14’s standards, are “wrong all the time.”
“The biggest limitation for the F-35 is that pilots are not familiar with how to fly it. They try to fly the F-35 like their old airplane,” Berke said.
With a new generation of pilots who bring a fresh, unencumbered look to the F-35, it looks as though the students are set to become the teachers.