Airmen from the 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron F-35A Lightning II armament shop at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., are building a capability the Air Force may benchmark to store and maintain alternate mission equipment for the F-35’s weapons system.
While the Air Force has 17 F-35 units, only two have a similar capability, and the 56th EMS is establishing procedures for future F-35A units to employ.
The 56th Maintenance Group established the AME shop in May 2019 and, in addition to inspecting and ordering supplies including F-35 adapters, pylons and launchers.
Alternate mission equipment is “basically, any equipment that’s needed to either launch a missile or drop ammunition, or anything that deals with the gun system has to come through us,” said Staff Sgt. Peter Christopher, 56th EMS F-35 AME supervisor. “And there’s quite a bit among each of the four F-35 squadrons. There are hundreds and hundreds of pieces of equipment.”
Before the Luke’s F-35 AME shop was established, F-35 aircraft maintenance personnel stored weapons equipment in hangars, warehouses and designated AME rooms. While maintenance Airmen stored the equipment in accordance with technical orders and instructions, a centralized storage facility to easily access the equipment was not available, said Christopher.
“Now there’s a central point where somebody inspects and takes care of the equipment,” said Christopher.
After receiving and cataloging F-35 weapons parts, the 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron delivers the inventory to the AME shop where Airmen organize the equipment and store it in crates for future use.
“It’s really a nonstop game of Tetris here,” said Christopher. “It’s basically about finding the space to get in all the equipment.”
Not only is the F-35 armament shop one of few in the Air Force, it is one of the few with Airmen qualified to repair the F-35 bulk loader, an ammunition loading system that loads 25mm rounds into the F-35 GAU-22 25mm cannon’s link less ammunition handling system.
“Every base that has F-35s currently has bulk loaders because they’re used as long as they’re firing the gun,” said Senior Airman Janey Sawmiller, 56th EMS F-35 maintenance supervisor. “Most bases just don’t have a back shop that’s working on them.”
Previously, if the bulk loaders required maintenance, maintenance Airmen sent the equipment to the manufacturing warehouse for repairs. Now all the maintenance is performed in the armament shop. Sawmiller said having maintenance in-house saves the Air Force time and money.
“I like learning something new that no one has ever done before,” said Sawmiller. “I also like the hands-on maintenance aspect.”
According to Christopher, the armament shop is creating benchmark for what a standard AME squadron should look like in the Air Force.
“In a small capacity, we’re turning into the focal point for transfers and setups of new AME squadrons on other bases,” said Christopher. “It’s not official, but we’ve managed to get a course of action such that allows other bases to use us as an interim for getting their new squadron set up.”