Airmen from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, finished advanced training on maintenance procedures for the F-35 Lightning II Nov. 3 at Luke Air Force Base.
The Hill Airmen are part of a continuous cycle of maintainers being sent to Luke from Hill in order to develop their skills in two phases of training, first under the experienced academic instructors of Detachment 12, 372nd Training Squadron, and then through actual operation and practice on the Luke flightline with the 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit.
“We have more availability to the F-35 compared to Hill, and so we share usage of our facilities and some of these aircraft for the purpose of training the maintainers Hill sends us,” said Chief Master Sgt. Ben Carson, 61st AMU superintendent. “We’re sharing our resources at Luke to help both Hill and the Air Force.”
As part of the mechanical transition training program, the Hill maintainers who arrive here all have some degree of previous technical training and are ready to learn the skills needed for them to be mission-ready on the F-35.
“The training here is more in-depth than in technical training school,” said Staff Sgt. Brandin Bethel, 372nd TRS, Det. 12 F-35 crew chief instructor. “We teach experience in addition to academics.”
The crew chief course under Det. 12 is 30 academic days in length. Students typically undergo three days a week of classroom instruction, where they learn the theory of operation for the airframe, electronics, hydraulics and other fundamental systems, and two days a week of hands-on learning with actual aircraft.
Following completion of their academic phase, students are handed over to the 61st AMU, who train and provide them practice for two weeks on the basic crew chief tasks needed to start working as soon as they get back to Hill.
“The Hill maintainers are trained up on engine removal and installation, horizontal stabilizer bearing inspections, horizontal stabilizer bearing removal and installation, tire changes, brake changes, launch and recovery, scheduled maintenances, latch inspections, and day-to-day inspections,” said Tech. Sgt. Justin Riggs, 61st AMU lead expeditor. “They do quite a bit.”
The students who arrive are mostly experienced maintainers who have worked previously on legacy jets, such as the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon. This experience allows the students to transition into the F-35 program with an understanding of the work ethic and operational pace expected of them. However, the added experience also poses occasional problems.
“There’s a big mentality change with this jet compared to the legacy ones,” Bethel said. “Some of the students get stuck in the legacy mentality when maintaining the F-35 and it doesn’t work because the F-35 is totally different.”
Bethel says the instructors counter this problem by pushing their students to exhibit excellence and integrity in respect for the role they’re playing in shaping the future of the Air Force.
“Overall, the F-35 is going to save us money down the road,” Bethel said. “When we’ve made thousands of them, we’ll have the same jet across the board and a population of maintainers who all know how to work with it. Additionally, we’ll have the same maintainers able to do more jobs in less time, and have a wider knowledge of the technical aspects of working with the F-35.”
Carson also echoes the importance of what the maintainers are learning.
“They need to understand they are on the cutting edge of a brand new weapons system. Five-to-10 years down the road, they are going to be the experts on this aircraft, and they are going to be the ones teaching the people behind them.”
“Training begets training,” Carson said. “These guys getting this training, they’ll be able to start generating the aircraft up at Hill and start practicing for combat operations and combat generation. They’re coming down here and doing great things.”