KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Five weeks into the first F-35A Pacific Theater Security Package deployment the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit team is at full stride.
Maintainers in the Pacific location and in Utah, home of the 34th AMU under the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings are coming together to make the first TSP a success and to fulfill lofty expectations of themselves and of the Air Force’s newest stealth fighter.
“Everyone associated with the 34th Fighter Squadron and AMU alike, make a really great team, and that’s good because we have a lot to accomplish while we’re here,” said Capt. Christina Merritt, 34th Expeditionary Maintenance Unit officer in charge. “I’m so happy to be here. We’re showing the world what we’re made of and what the F-35A can do.”
From a maintenance perspective, the results are remarkable. The jet can fly 7 hours from Utah to Hawaii and then 10-plus hours to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japan, without a single maintenance incident, and then continue to perform exceptionally during training missions throughout the Pacific Theater.
“The jets performed perfectly and all landed code-one,” (no flight-limiting conditions) said Master Sgt. Brian Safafin, F-35A Production superintendent for the 34th AMU. “No issues in Hawaii and no issues here. We have gotten off to a great start and have continued through the early part of this deployment.”
Sarafin said he isn’t surprised that the maintenance record is so good because the plane is strong and the people working on it. He also commended the airmen of Kadena Air Base’s host 18th Wing for their support.
“We have already proven the F-35s are reliable,” Sarafin said. “We fly like crazy back home and we get good numbers all the time. But to get zero maintenance non-deliveries to start out the TSP, after moving 12 aircraft across the world and more than 300 people across the world is impressive. It’s mostly due to the hard work that all the people have been putting in around here.”
Keeping the planes in the skies over subtropical Okinawa can be a little different than flying over the Utah desert. Merritt said they’re becoming accustomed to dealing with salt water’s corrosive properties.
“In Utah, we don’t fly over oceans with salt water corrosion,” she explained. “But coming here with the 5th gen platform flying over salt water constantly, our pilots have to run through the ‘bird bath’ every day.”
The bird bath is a giant sprinkler that pilots drive through as they taxi back to their parking spot. It engulfs the entire aircraft with clear water to rinse off the salt that the aircraft was exposed to while flying over the ocean.
When something does need repair on the F-35A during this deployment, Sarafin said they can fix it promptly.
“We’ve been able to fix the things that have broken because we have the parts for it and we fixed it the same day,” he said. “As long as we have the parts, we can fix this jet quick. That is a testament to our maintenance capability, and the ease of maintenance on the F-35.”
Merritt said she wants the maintainers she works with to fully understand the importance of this TSP deployment because they have an important role in making it a success and there are a lot of eyes watching.
“This is a huge deal for our unit and also for the US Air Force,” she said. “We have big shoes to fill and I have no doubts that we will continue to fill them perfectly. I want our maintainers to walk away from this experience being proud of what they do in the Air Force, and being proud of successfully accomplishing the very first F-35A Pacific deployment.”
U.S. PACOM’s TSP deployments to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region have operated since 2004. This long-planned deployment for the 388th and 419th FWs is designed to demonstrate the continuing U.S. commitment to stability and security in the region.