HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The Air Force’s first operational F-35s arrived here Sept. 2, and 419th Fighter Wing maintenance personnel are already hard at work on the jets, getting hands-on training to become experts in fifth-generation technology.
Senior Airman Samantha Callaway and Senior Airman Joshua Davidson, reservists in the 419th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, performed a routine inspection on the jet’s internal weapons bays with their active-duty counterparts in the 388th Fighter Wing.
The reservists returned from F-35 training at Luke AFB, Arizona, last month, where they received on-the-job training in their specialty, aircraft weapons systems.
The F-35 offers a significant leap in technology compared with the F-16 that makes weapons systems maintenance quicker and easier for Airmen, Callaway said. “It’s exciting to work on a brand new aircraft.”
The jet’s highly advanced software can diagnose maintenance needs in real time. Maintainers are equipped with laptops that “talk” to the aircraft, giving them a head start.
Some aspects, though, are more challenging. The F-35 is different from the F-16 in that it carries weapons internally and not under the wings, which allows it to maintain its stealth capability. That means loading munitions takes place in tighter spaces within the weapons bays.
When fully trained, Davidson and Callaway will be part of the first certified weapons crew in the 419th FW. The wing expects to have 12 certified weapons crews by 2019.
In total, 228 maintenance personnel from the 419th FW will support the F-35’s highly complex network of fully integrated avionics and sensor technology. Reservists will also help train new Airmen, including active duty, to be proficient in F-35 maintenance.
The 419th FW and 388th FW will now work toward declaring Initial Operational Capability, or IOC, at which time the F-35s will meet the minimum requirements needed to be combat-ready. The units expect to receive one to two additional aircraft each month until 2019, for a total of 72.