F-35 communication improved through Airmen collaboration

The 56th Maintenance Group Continuous Improvement and Innovation office at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., developed the F-35A Lightning II communication cable rebuild and class tester box, allowing Airmen to rebuild F-35 communication cables at the unit level.

Communication cables are used daily to enable pilots and maintainers to communicate during aircraft launch and recovery. Previously, communication cables were sent to the Air Force Repair Enhancement Program to be fixed, which created repair time delays. If the cables were faulty, pilots and maintainers would have to communicate through hand signals.

“We were getting 40-50 cables a month that needed repairs and each cable takes around two hours to repair,” said Tech. Sgt. Brady Flynn, 56th MXG CII manager. “In 2019, there was a backlog of over 135 communication cables that needed to be restored and put back into operation.”

With this tester box, the CII office and aircraft maintenance units have the ability to not only test if the communication cable is faulty, but also indicate which part of the cable needs to be repaired before it is taken out to the flight line. After brainstorming various ideas, the team was able to reach their goal of creating a prototype that tests broken cables.

“We developed a tester where you can plug the cable into both sides of the box and test the circuits to indicate which have failed,” said Flynn. “It’s an easy way to troubleshoot and isolate a failure when a communication cable comes in that may not be operable.”

To implement this tester box, the CII office collaborated with the National Security Innovation Network, a Department of Defense program called Project X that partners college interns with military installations to help further innovative projects. Through the collaboration with the 56th MXG’s CII office and NSIN, Corey Stoner, Stevens Institute of Technology intern, helped enhance the tester box by adding a sound device and alarm to mimic pilots and maintainers communicating on the flight line.

“[The tester box acts as a simulated pilot sounding an alarm], which would allow for any communication issues to be readily apparent and rely less on vocal and signal cues,” said Stoner. “For maintainers, the changes should be apparent in the new design [of the tester box] to reduce the points of failure, leading to less downtime.”

The development of the tester box has improved communication between pilots and maintainers on the flight line. This is one of many initiatives that advances the 56th MXG CII office’s mission to find errors, fix problems and empower the future of the 56th Fighter Wing.

A prototype of the F-35A Lightning II communication cable rebuild and class tester box, developed by the 56th Maintenance Group Continuous Improvement and Innovation team, sits on display April 27, 2021, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The development of the tester box has improved communication between pilots and maintainers on the flight line by allowing Airmen to rebuild F-35 communication cables at the unit level. This is one of many initiatives that advances the 56th MXG CII office’s mission to find errors, fix problems, and empower the future of the 56th Fighter Wing. (Courtesy photograph)

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