HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Units at Hill Air Force Base recently collaborated to reattach the wings of a damaged F-35A Lightning II aircraft repurposed as a maintenance trainer and test bed for developing new Aircraft Battle Damage Repair (ABDR) procedures and technologies.
The aircraft referred to as AF-27 was condemned after a 2014 fire that occurred during take-off while assigned to the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin AFB, Florida, and was acquired by Hill’s ABDR Program Office in 2019.
“Transporting AF-27 to Hill required the wings to be cut off in order to fit inside transport vessels since – unlike any other fighter in the Air Force’s inventory – no provisions exist for detaching or reattaching the wings,” said 1st Lt. Sam Sentongo, chief of Hill ABDR Engineering.
The aircraft was delivered to Hill’s 309th Expeditionary Depot Maintenance Flight by a C-17 military transport aircraft, a first for the F-35 program.
Air Force Life Cycle Management Center engineers used a unique variety of ABDR engineering techniques for the re-wing design on the aircraft, including a reattachment structure to withstand the weight of the wing itself along with the weight of a 12-inch thick sheet of ice – more than 5,000 pounds.
“The sheet of ice serves as a doomsday scenario that takes into account the most catastrophic environmental loads expected in Utah,” said Sentongo.
More importantly, Sentongo said the new wing structure “allows for multiple personnel with equipment to stand on the wing, facilitating AF-27’s mission as a trainer as well as an ADBR technique development testbed.”
Airmen with the 372nd Training Squadron Detachment 3 and the 309th Expeditionary Depot Maintenance Flight provided additional labor and expertise to reattach the wings.
The 372nd has also used the aircraft to develop and instruct an F-35 crew chief course and the active-duty 388th Fighter Wing has used it to train Airmen on a multitude of flight line related tasks that would be more difficult with an operational F-35.
“The F-35 program is in the throes of developing an ABDR manual for the three aircraft variants and AF-27 will be critical in helping develop and validate ABDR tasks,” said Dan Santos, 309th Maintenance Group heavy maintenance program manager. “AF-27 will be used to provide critical training to technicians in the accomplishment of assessing battle damage.”