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Instructor pilots, students adapt COVID-19 safeguards to keep flying-training mission airborne

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Amber Litteral
  • 33rd Fighter Wing

In a time filled with uncertainty due to the ever-evolving COVID-19 crisis, the Gorillas of the 33rd Fighter Wing’s 58th Fighter Squadron are taking steps to combat the potential spread of the virus while continuing to execute the flying training mission.

Within 24 hours of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 at Eglin Air Force Base, Airmen at the 58th FS created and implemented a new work schedule using a split-team concept. 

“Other squadrons are now following our lead with the two-team approach,” said Capt. Matthew Powell, instructor pilot, 58th FS. 

Based on their qualifications, student pilots are now divided into teams with instructor pilots split between each group. 

“We spend a week on the flightline while the other team is in the simulator for a week. After one week we swap locations,” Powell said. “We do not interact at all with members of the other team and only show to base when required to fly, sim, or instruct academics. All other functions are performed remotely.”

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve, it is important for Airmen to remember how imperative the 33rd FW training mission is to the objectives of the Air Education and Training Command.

“The F-35 program serves as a strategic deterrent against a future existential and external threat – one that I hope we never fight but will be emboldened if we don’t show resolve and resilience in tough times like this,” said Lt. Col. David Cochran, 58th Fighter Squadron commander. “Our team is aware of the strategic value of our mission. Our graduates will staff the future combat forces that will prevent America’s next war.”

The Air Force and Department of Defense strive to ensure the safety of personnel and their families while also continuing operations in an effort to maintain the security of our nation against all current and future adversaries. 

“COVID-19 is one threat to our society…and we are doing our part to follow all CDC and national guidelines to mitigate personal risk and community spread,” said Cochran. “We are very conscious of our social responsibility to stop the spread [of the virus] and have made significant changes to our operations to achieve that goal.”