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Technology-savvy F-35 maintainer
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - Staff Sgt. Matthew Stormer, dedicated F-35A Lightning II crew chief, 33rd Fighter Wing, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., reviews joint technical data while performing tasks to maintain the joint strike fighter July 25, 2013. The aircraft is undergoing scheduled routine maintenance to include a landing-gear functional check. Eglin is the heart of F-35 training worldwide for the Air Force, Marines, Navy and international partner operators and maintainers of the Lightning II. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Maj. Karen Roganov)
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Eglin F-35 squadron wins command maintenance award

Posted 7/25/2013   Updated 7/31/2013 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Karl Stenske
33rd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

7/25/2013 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla.  -- The 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron received Air Education and Training Command's Maintenance Effectiveness Award in the small aircraft maintenance category. The unit beat out more established legacy fighter aircraft squadrons for the award. The award winners now compete for Air Force honors.
"Having a squadron that is working on a new airframe win the Maintenance Effectiveness Award shows the type of hard working professional maintainers that are assigned to the F-35 program," said Col. Todd Canterbury, 33rd Fighter Wing commander. "I expect the squadron will continue to set the standard and lead the way for the next 50 years of F-35 operations."

Lt. Col. Maurice Lee, commander, 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron said the F-35 program is unique because it is undergoing development at the same time it is in the testing phase. This created a number of challenges for the maintainers to overcome. "Upgrading the software was one of the biggest challenges, as well as getting the technical data," said Lee. "Since it is a new airplane and a new system it required a cadre of maintainers with experience on different aircraft to overcome the challenge."

Lee said the unit completed numerous data points since the first F-35 Lightning II arrived here in July 2011. Some of these accomplishments include the first operational F-35A mission, the first in-flight refueling mission, and graduating the first F-35A non-test pilots. Also, as the sole operational F-35 maintenance unit, the 33rd AMXS impressed more than 1,300 community leaders, Department of Defense and international distinguished visitors on the Lightning II's operations during site visits, bolstering the F-35's profile worldwide.

Flying was not the only focus. Maintenance personnel benchmarked training syllabi, established safe maintenance practices and verified tasks to be used by all future F-35 maintainers, said Lee. "These and multiple other endeavors were accomplished while exceeding AETC flying and scheduling effectiveness standards, as well as garnering an excellent rating during the unit's first compliance inspection," said Lee.

A key contributor to success was years of know-how. "We have a lot of experience on other airframes," said Master Sgt. Ted Hackler III, 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit specialist section chief. "We bring that diverse experience to the table and it helps us move the program further along."

The 33rd maintainers' situation is different compared to legacy maintainers, said Tech. Sgt. Dustin Ossman, 58th AMU expeditor. "A little more than a year ago, the F-35 completed its first operational flight," he said. "Now the squadron is producing sorties with regularity. For everyone to learn it that quick says a lot for us."

The award is given to a maintenance unit for mission accomplishment, effective use of resources, innovative management practices and quality-of-life programs. The unit was measured against other legacy fighter units during the period of Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012.
Over the course of a year Eglin AFB received the aircraft. As they arrived, each successive group of aircraft had different operating software that became more advanced as the program matured.

Less than a year after receiving the first joint strike fighter, the squadron began operating "organically" or without Lockheed Martin contractor assistance, said Lee. The Air Force-to-Air Force training program began in earnest at the same time with a simplified on-the-job training program that was embraced by the Navy and Marine maintainers. All three departments collocated at the wing here integrated seamlessly to ensure technical data was complete.
"The men and women of the 33 AMXS should be very proud of their accomplishments," said Canterbury. "Every day their undertakings bring the F-35 one step closer to initial operating capability."

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