Defense

July 17, 2013

F-35 aircrew flight equipment team named Air Force best

Technical Sergeants Andre Baskin (left) and Lemuel Velazquez (right), inspect the optical cable of the F-35 Lightning II helmet June 24, 2013, at the 33rd Fighter Wing, Eglin AFB, Fla. The members are part of the 33rd Operations Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment Flight and ensure the pilots have well-maintained gear, which provides enhanced situational awareness, targeting information and symbology capabilities displayed on the visor of the helmet.

One of the Air Force’s newest aircrew flight equipment teams is now the Air Force’s best.

The 33rd Fighter Wing’s aircrew flight equipment flight was chosen the best in the Air Force in the small program category for 2012. The wing is the only unit to fly and train on the F-35A Lightning II fifth generation fighter.

“This outstanding feat was accomplished amidst a year of numerous challenges in stand-up operations for the F-35,” said Col. Todd Canterbury, the 33rd Fighter Wing commander. “It shows how hard their team worked to be considered the best in the Air Force.”

TSgt. Andre Baskin is the flight’s NCOIC, who says that his team’s biggest challenge has been the unique aspects of the F-35 program. “There was nothing to base our procedures on,” said Baskin. “We had to use our experience with other fighter aircraft to create new procedures.”

Baskin said the team worked 30 hours over a three-day period to perform an emergency safety inspection on F-35 aircrew safety equipment, completing the inspection in one-third of the time. He added that, because there was no aircrew flight equipment training courseware, the team had to create its own, earning honors for “best practice,” also at the Air Force level.

TSgt. Amanda Williams is the team’s continuation training instructor, responsible for creating the instructions used to perform tasks for the F-35 equipment under review. “Since there’s no F-35 training plan on the equipment, she had to develop it from scratch,” said Baskin. “Usually a lesson plan is created and sent from higher headquarters on down. We had to go from the bottom up on these.”

A1C Sean Gregory conducts a routine pre-flight inspection of the F-35 Lightning II helmet June 24, 2013, at the 33rd Fighter Wing, Eglin AFB, Fla. As an apprentice with the Aircrew Flight Equipment flight, 33rd Operations Support Squadron, she is responsible for ensuring the helmet’s acting noise reduction and optical system work before a training sortie.

Baskin’s team became one of the first within the wing to transition from the F-35 contract team, in this case Lockheed Martin, to complete Air Force oversight, a feat they accomplished a year ahead of schedule. “It was difficult because it was brand new,” said Baskin. “If a typical aircrew flight equipment shop needs support with something, they can usually get it from another base. There was no F-35 support other than what we could provide ourselves internally. We had to make sure all our bases were covered.”

The team was also asked to support other units as well, assisting 720 F-16 sorties from the 56th Fighter Wing, from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., deployed to Eglin in support of the F-35 program. Baskin said that having the added support of the F-16s was definitely a challenge for he and his team. “The team had to basically build an F-16 shop from scratch, not only in equipment, but also in the process of dealing with the equipment, such as obtaining bench stock and equipment turn-in.”

TSgt. Lemuel Velazquez, one of the team technicians, said that, when the F-35s arrived, it was hard, but rewarding work. “It was difficult because we have guidelines on the legacy aircraft, but most of those could not be applied to the F-35. We had to adapt to the new requirements, but it helped me grow as an NCO. I was able to see how the Air Force works from a different point of view. I now know 200 percent more than I did before.”

 




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