During the Russia-Ukraine war, there are considerations about donating F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, but there would be problems with providing training for that specific plane. Training for another F-something plane would be provided instead, with information on what is different.

It may ultimately resolve differently (this is a quickly changing situation, as of mid-May 2023) but this made me wonder: how realistic is this within the planned 3 months? (from now on my question becomes generic, not related to the war above)

Specifically, how long is training expected to last for a pilot that switches

  • military planes within a similar "line" (F-14 to F-16 for instance)
  • military planes across "lines" (F-16 to Rafale for instance)
  • commercial planes within a constructor (Boeing something to Boeing something else)
  • commercial planes across companies

I have no idea about piloting so I do not really feel whether what you know from one plane can be reused in another one. If I take the example of cars, I expect the wheels to be at the same place in a Renault Clio and a Mercedes (obvious case), the same for the blinker (less obvious case) but the button to open the fuel door will be anywhere (I need to check that in the manual). How does this relate to planes?

The training (and the time it takes) I have in mind is the one required to fly the plane with a bit more than fingers crossed (= safe but maybe not optimal). To take again the example of cars, that would be the ability to start and drive but possibly not use the entertainment beyond common usages, or use the automatic windscreen wipers mode (but still be able to change the speed manually)

  • $\begingroup$ As an aside, dense SAM coverage has reduced aircraft on both sides to a tiny fraction of their normal effectiveness. Looking cool could still be accomplished. $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 23:26

2 Answers 2


Switching planes is not like switching cars.

There's at least a hundred distinct steps from getting into a cold dark plane to celebrating mission accomplished. Getting it started is the easy part. Then there's programming and calibrating the systems, programming the munitions, understanding all of the screens and operations they require.

Even switching between USAF and USN aircraft involves a lot of re-learning. Other nations have even more differences in their control philosophy.

The only transferable skills are combat tactics and the basics of aviating. The part of the training after advanced flight training on LIFT (lead-in fighter trainer aircraft) would start over again.

The minimum time to switch airframes is generally half a year, training is closer to 9 months, it would be longer for someone trained on a whole other kind of cockpit and systems layout. Longer if they're expected to fly combat missions in an IADS environment, to the extent it's practical at all.

  • $\begingroup$ "The only transferable skills are combat tactics and the basics of aviating" – And even the combat skills may be of questionable usefulness if the planes have markedly different characteristics regarding power, maneuverability, (structural) limits, control authority, agility, range, energy management, etc. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2023 at 12:16

"Flying" is the easy part. I've heard pilots say "If I can get it started, I can fly it".

It is running all the subsystems. Comms, radar, weapons selection. Muscle memory to do that without looking.

But I would also posit that it is not just the pilots. Maintenance is a major factor. Keeping a small fleet of new unfamiliar aircraft fully combat ready is no easy task. You need craploads of tools, equipment, and training.

If you were to drop a dozen Su-27s at Hill AFB (F-35) or Langley AFB (F-22), they'd also have initial problems. We'd figure it out, but some of the tools and parts are totally incompatible.

  • $\begingroup$ Agree competely! I would add that as aircraft systems become more and more automated the problem is only getting worse. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2023 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ As to the "just flying the jet" piece of the puzzle, the more different types of aircraft a pilot has experience flying, (and the greater the variety), the less time it takes to become proficient in a new and different aircraft. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2023 at 10:32

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