HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Crew chiefs newly-assigned to the F-35 have direct access to professional development thanks to a course recently created at Hill Air Force Base, which may be implemented throughout the Air Force.
The first class of Airmen graduated Friday from the F-35 Crew Chief Upgrade Training course, which was developed jointly by the 372nd Training Squadron Detachment 3, and the 388th Maintenance Group, to help alleviate the training backlog for new maintainers.
The course has been authorized by Air Education and Training Command to be implemented at F-35 maintenance units across the Air Force. It was also accredited by the Community College of the Air Force and earns Airmen five college credits upon completion.
A crew chief’s job includes everything from maintaining landing gear, engines, swapping tires, to performing inspections and launching and recovering aircraft.
The new course will help participants progress from 3-level to 5-level skill. This means they’ve been trained and signed off on more than 80 core tasks.
“When they get here from tech school, they have never really handled a live aircraft,” said Chief Master Sgt. Ben Carson, 388th Maintenance Group chief enlisted manager. “It can be like drinking from a fire hose for them, a lot of tech orders, a lot of theory, a lot of safety training, but not a lot of practice.”
Because of this, F-35 maintainers used to transition from technical training directly to another “Mission Ready Airmen” training program at Luke AFB, Ariz., or Eglin AFB, Fla., where they would get more hands on training before arriving at their duty station.
The Air Force recently decided to shift the responsibility for that training to the units at the Airman’s first duty station — in addition to the existing requirement to certify them on each training task. With this course, the 388th MXG leadership decided to “get ahead of that curve,” Carson said.
The new three-week course was developed by 372nd instructors (from the F-35 Tactical Aircraft Maintenance Systems career field) along with 388th MXG crew chiefs. They asked, “What do we actually need these young Airmen to grasp to do this job more quickly and safely?”
“All the course material is derived from the F-35 joint technical data, but we are able to supplement and describe for them why things are important and what they need to do to complete a task,” said Technical Sgt. Julian Leija, an instructor with the 372nd and former F-35 crew chief. “Unlike OJT, we’re able to do this without distractions, slow down the process, instead of having to do it while we’re trying to launch real-world sorties or get a jet ‘greened-up.’”
During the course, participants are trained on tasks and their training records are certified at the same time, putting them in rotation sooner, helping to save up to five months of additional training time.
“Since we can sign them off on these tasks, if they graduate on a Friday, they can turn right around on Monday and be on the flight line doing their actual job, instead of showing up brand new and waiting to get signed off on things when a trainer has time.” Leija said.