Young crew chief maintains F-35 aircraft

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The future belongs to the young.

Nathan Kosters, the youngest F-35 crew chief in the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, was born in 1996. “The Macerana” was No. 1 on the music charts, “Independence Day” topped the movie box office and the F-16 Fighting Falcon had already been flying for 22 years.

Kosters, a 20-year-old native of Byron Center, Michigan, and his fellow F-35A maintainers, are generating combat sorties with America’s newest jet at exercise Red Flag.

This iteration of Air Force’s premier air combat exercise started Jan. 23 and runs through Feb. 10. Participants include both United States and allied nations’ combat air forces. The exercise provides aircrews the experience of multiple, intensive air combat sorties in the safety of a training environment.

Working for mission success

“It’s pretty amazing. It’s like a family atmosphere,” Kosters said. “We’re extremely busy, working long hours, but everyone pulls together and makes sure the mission is successful.”

Growing up, Kosters learned hard work from his father, a carpenter. He learned how to get up early and work until the job was done. The two worked side by side, even through his father’s cancer treatments. Kosters’ dad survived and taught him how to “work with his hands.”

“He is an inspiration to me. Never giving up,” Kosters said. “Working was a great opportunity to be close to him.”

Seeking new horizons

Kosters joined the Air Force a little over a year ago after graduating high school and working construction for a while. He wanted to leave the Midwest, get an education, see the world. He scored high on his entrance test, and the F-35 maintenance world, hungry for new talent, put him in the pipeline.

“I didn’t really know anything about the F-35.” Kosters said. “I knew it was the newest jet and I heard all the negative press about it. My dad and I started reading up on it. He probably knew more about it than I did.”

After technical training and hands-on experience, Kosters is happy he is where he is.

“It’s cool, working with the latest technology. I don’t want to make it sound like maintenance is easy, it’s just advanced. It’s great to be able to plug in a laptop and talk to the aircraft,” Kosters said.

The 34th Fighter Squadron and Aircraft Maintenance Unit are the first combat-coded F-35A units in the Air Force. They were created by bringing together a team of experienced pilots and maintainers from across the Air Force’s F-35 test and training units. Kosters was one of the first pipeline maintainers to join the 34th AMU straight from basic training and tech school and Red Flag is valuable experience for that greener group.

“At home, our young maintenance airmen are practicing and learning every day. Here, we’re able to put that training into a realistic scenario and watch them succeed and learn how to overcome challenges,” said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Robert Soto, lead production superintendent for the 34th AMU.

‘I feel i have the best job there is’

“It’s not glorious. You’re not working 9-5. Your uniform is not going to stay nice and clean. But, next to being a pilot, I feel like I have the best job there is.” Kosters said. “It is gratifying to see those jets take off.”

Kosters said he and his fellow maintainers take pride as they hear from pilots how their aircraft are performing in the fight.

“It’s had its doubters in the world. But it’s nice to prove people wrong with all eyes on us, especially here,” Kosters said. “The first couple missions, it was the F-35 versus everyone else, and our guys were showing them that the F-35 is a superior plane. We’re like varsity.”

Music has come a long way since “The Macarena,” and 20 years passed before a studio tried to remake “Independence Day.” The F-16 is still flying, but its successor is here.

The future belongs to the young. With airmen like Kosters and an aircraft like the F-35, it appears to be in good hands.