Nine airmen became the first Air Force recruits to graduate initial skills technical training as F-35A Lightning II crew chiefs after completing Mission-Ready Airmen training at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Aug. 7.
“The opportunity to be the first of something so important means a lot. I know many people are looking at us to be the best – it’s a big honor,” said A1C Saovada Pum.
“To be among the first to earn my 3-Level as an F-35 crew chief is a feeling of responsibility and also a significant measure of pride,” said A1C Gideon R. Burris. “It’s special because the F-35 is the most technologically advanced aircraft in the air.”
For both students, graduation was the culmination of months of training within the 82nd Training Wing that spanned two bases and three squadrons. After completing Basic Military Training, they headed to Sheppard AFB, Texas for aircraft fundamentals with the 362nd Training Squadron. Then it was on to Eglin, first for F-35-specific training with the 359th Training Squadron followed by mission-ready airmen training with Detachment 19, 372nd Training Squadron, which tested their ability to apply their training in an operational environment.
As with its fifth-generation cousin the F-22, maintenance training for the F-35 is as advanced as the aircraft itself.
“The majority of my F-15 training took place in a classroom where most of the hands-on training was performed on props, models or older block versions of aircraft,” said instructor Staff Sgt. Trevor L. Taylor. “These airmen get to work on the current aircraft itself or simulators that closely mirror operational aircraft.”
Fellow instructor SSgt. Kevin L. Evans agreed.
“It’s very different! The training I received was all on paper in black and white. The training these airmen are getting is all computer-based. It’s also modular and simplified so that a completely inexperienced Airman can quickly learn and perform complex maintenance tasks.”
The digital, modular nature of training is a natural consequence of the technology inherent in the aircraft, according to instructor SSgt. Ralph S. Davis.
“The technology integrated into the F-35 makes the aircraft easier to maintain. We interface directly with the aircraft by computer, and the diagnostic capabilities inherent in every system let us know if a component is going bad before it handicaps the mission. This allows a proactive approach to maintenance that will minimize down time” said Davis.
According to Taylor, Burris and his fellow graduates were well prepared for the challenge of learning how to maintain the high-tech fighter. “One of the great things about the F-35 training program is that it’s suited perfectly for this generation of airmen. They’re very proficient with computer technology, which helps them quickly grasp F-35 concepts and systems,” he said.
“It’s gratifying to be part of something historic,” agreed Evans, “but also a little surreal. It means a new age of Air Force maintainers, equipped with new age training, working on new age equipment.”
Graduating the first crew chief class is yet another major milestone achieved for the F-35 program as a whole, said detachment commander U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Ryan Martin.
“Graduating the first ‘pipeline’ crew chief class is important for the entire F-35 campus at Eglin. It demonstrates that we’ve developed the training system and curriculum needed to take an Airman from Basic Military Training graduate to mission-ready F-35 technician.
Not only can we develop the aircraft itself and the pilots who will fly it, but also the maintainers who will keep it ready to fly, fight and win.”
For Taylor, it’s another step on the road to ensuring air dominance well into the future.
“Once the F-35 program has matured and the full capabilities of the aircraft are realized, the marriage between aircraft, pilot, and maintainer will be a lethal combination for many decades to come.”