F-35 maintenance battle tested
By Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson, 33d Fighter Wing
/ Published December 19, 2016
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Florida -- The 33d Fighter Wing completed its second Checkered Flag exercise with the F-35A December 16, at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
During the exercise, which facilitates integration between fifth and fourth-generation aircraft communities, F-35As from the 33 FW successfully executed all 48 of their scheduled sorties launching jets from both Tyndall and Eglin in split operations.
For the Air Force’s five F-35 bases, exercises like Checkered Flag are critical to hone the tactics techniques and procedures (TTP’s) for the aircraft’s inevitable deployment fighting alongside other combat assets.
Maintenance is critical to get jets off the ground in support of combat readiness deployments. While the exercise is prime opportunity to learn about how we fly the aircraft, it presents the same learning opportunities for preventative and restorative maintenance.
“As with any aircraft, maintenance on the F-35A is critical to sortie production,” said Capt. John Marburger, 33d Maintenance Group “Not only is split-second reactive maintenance imperative, but the 33d Maintenance Group put in significant effort (to) preventative maintenance in the weeks leading up to this exercise.”
Executing split operations put heavy strain on maintenance personnel because it required the organization to transition from its normal three shift operations to twelve-hour shifts. Leadership ensured Airmen were prepared through implementation of training and planning leading up to the exercise.
“We were 100 percent confident going into Checkered Flag, knowing that our people were capable of handling whatever tasks would come their way,” said 1st Lt. Krista Wooden, 33d Aircraft Maintenance Unit assistant officer in charge. “These guys are the backbone of the flightline and these aircraft. They are the ones who are doing the hard work to get jets into the air.”
Operating out of a foreign location added a new layer of complexity for seasoned maintainers and provided useful exposure for the participants as the F-35A makes strides towards becoming fully mission capable.
“Some of our (Airmen) have never been away from Eglin, so it provides an invaluable (combat-like) experience that they will use later in their career,” Marburger said. “Operating in an unfamiliar and congested environment, processing data away from our main server and establishing real-time reach back with home station ensuring efficient split-operations was a challenge.”