The 56th Maintenance Squadron Aircraft Wheel and Tire shop has recently taken on the task of tire maintenance for the new F-35 Lightning II jet.
Luke Air Force Base received its first F-35 back in March to begin training on the fifth-generation stealth fighter. As the second base in the Air Force to receive the F-35, Luke’s wheel and tire shop has begun training as well on the maintenance of the F-35’s tires.
Being a new and larger jet, the parts on the plane are larger as well. With several bases outsourcing their aircraft tire maintenance needs, Luke’s wheel and tire shop cuts the spending and potentially saves millions of dollars every year using a small crew composed of military service members and one civilian to maintain the tire needs of more than 100 fighter jets, including those of the two foreign military squadrons on base.
It takes a four-man crew to lift an F-35 tire for service, since the tire weighs more than 160 pounds fully assembled and aired up. For an F-16 tire, it takes two crew members.
“I would like to see the F-35 tire manning program set up more like the F-16 program,” said William Biggs, 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft tire mounter. “We won’t need as many people once we refine the process.”
The wheel and tire maintenance crew picks up on average 12 worn out tires for F-16 repairs during a 12-hour work day. Since there are only two F-35s and the tires likely will not wear out soon, only two tires are kept in stock, but the number will increase as the number of aircraft increase.
“We are the pit crew for the fighter jets here at Luke,” said Tech Sgt. Mark Steinmetz, 56th EMS Aircraft Wheel and Tire shop NCO-in-charge. “We build the tires from ground up. If we don’t build enough to fill the need, they have to be removed from other aircraft. It creates more work and you don’t even know if the tire is any good.”
Having two F-35s on base allows the shop time to train on the new tire. As more F-35s arrive, the amount of tires the wheel and tire shop will maintain will grow.