US Air Force maintenance troops working on the Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter at Eglin AFB, Florida, say the stealth coatings on the new fifth-generation type are proving easier to work on than those on earlier low-observable (LO) platforms.
Maintaining the LO coatings on the new aircraft marks "a significant improvement", says Senior Master Sgt Eric Wheeler, a maintainer assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing at the base. "Typically, [it] has not caused us a whole lot of downtime on this jet."
As maintenance personnel have become used to working on the F-35, the process has also become a lot easier. "We started off with an engine run being a huge event for us, [and progressed] to flying a four-turn-four," Wheeler says, referring in the latter case to a situation where a four-ship formation of aircraft can return from a sortie and be swiftly prepared to take off again.
US Air Force
Although there have been design changes to the F-35 between various production lot aircraft at Eglin AFB, there are only a few hardware differences noticeable to the maintainers, Wheeler says. Most of these are software modifications.
It is a constant learning process, Wheeler says, but the USAF troops are making progress. "We still rely heavily on Lockheed for the success that we have out here, but we have minimised the support out on the flight line down to eight of their maintainers, from 20, just in the last two weeks," he says.
One significant recent development at Eglin AFB is that the maintenance is upgrading the autonomic logistics information system (ALIS) version 1.03 with the delivery of the base's first Block 2A configuration F-35.
The new system, which is also being used at MCAS Yuma in Arizona, Edwards AFB in California and Nellis AFB, Nevada, is able to handle classified data, unlike the older ALIS version.