TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — Standing up the nation’s first operational F-35 Lightning II fighter squadron on schedule would not have happened without the hard work and expertise of the 76th Propulsion Maintenance Group’s F135 engine team, a top program official said.
Rear Adm. Randolph L. Mahr, deputy executive officer of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, addressed about 60 mechanics, technicians and managers Aug. 13 at the “Home of the F135” engine, the Oklahoma City Heavy Maintenance Center in Building 3001.
The admiral spoke during a celebration marking the Marine Corps’ July 31 announcement of initial operating capability for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 in Yuma, Arizona.
Since July of last year, the 76th PMXG has worked on a rigid deadline to bring the F135 engine maintenance to full capability and modify and deliver F135 engines for the Marines’ 10-fighter squadron.
“We wanted to say thank you,” Admiral Mahr told the F135 team. “We wanted to thank you because you did what people said couldn’t be accomplished. You did what some of us believed was not going to be able to be accomplished, and you deserve the thank-you.”
The admiral outlined the challenging history of the complicated Marine F-35B, the only F-35 variant designed for short takeoffs and vertical landings. The F-35B program overcame probation and possible cancellation in 2012, Admiral Mahr said.
Admiral Mahr also credited the F135 team, including employees of engine maker Pratt & Whitney, for completing 100 percent of their goal even as engines were getting modifications “up to the last minute.”
“That doesn’t happen every day, that doesn’t happen with every team and that doesn’t happen with every program in defense,” Admiral Mahr said. “The lives of those Marines and the lives of the people those Marines will protect — you own that. You’ve done what you said you would do.”
The admiral coined engine mechanic Justin Curlee, a subject matter expert who was “pivotal in helping design the sequential build process,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Jeremiah McDaniel, an engine mechanic with the 544th Propulsion Maintenance Squadron, was coined for his “instrumental” role in important retrofits that increased the engines’ thrust.
Penny Heard, a Pratt & Whitney engine manager, said the achievement involved extra hours and solving challenges ranging from the supply chain to training.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Heard said. “It was hard to reach and we did it, and I’m proud of everybody on our team for doing that.”
Curlee said, “I feel fortunate that I got picked up for the program from the very beginning, so I think it’s a pretty big deal to get to be down here. With everybody working together, we got it done pretty good.”
Tinker Air Force Base is the only depot-level maintenance facility for F135 engines that power the Lightning II. The Air Force is scheduled to activate its first F-35 squadron next year, followed by the Navy and allied forces.