Air Force reuses doomed F-35s for maintenance training aids


In 2020, an F-35 Lightning II was involved in a landing accident at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

As the pilot ejected safely, the aircraft burned after impact and was deemed irreparable.

Enter the Airmen at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, who are currently turning the doomed aircraft into sectional training aids to use during F-35 maintenance officials training.

After the 2020 crash, Airmen from the 372nd Training Squadron, Det. 3, at Hill AFB sought the aircraft as a chance to enhance maintenance training opportunities for F-35 military and civilian officials assigned to the 388th Fighter Wing, 419th Fighter Wing, and Ogden Air Logistics Complex.

A crew loads the fuselage of a doomed F-35A Lightning II onto a flatbed trailer at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., For transport to Hill AFB, Utah. The aircraft was involved in a landing crash at Eglin in 2020, but is now at Hill AFB where Airmen are currently involved in its transformation into sectional training aids to be used when instructing those in charge of maintenance of the F-35. (air force photo)

“Initially, the jet was to be scrapped and destroyed,” said Master Sgt. Andrew Wilkow, 372nd TRS. “However, we have explored the possibility that some parts such as the avionics, fuel cell and gun system are still in a relatively pristine condition inside the damaged crust and usable for training.”

Since the 372nd TRS previously worked with the F-35 Joint Program Office on another crashed F-35 aircraft project last spring to successfully reinstall the wings of an F-35 and transform it into an airplane combat damage training, this time the JPO called in to reciprocate and offer assistance to the 372nd.

Together with Dan Santos, responsible for heavy maintenance of the F-35 JPO, a small team of aircraft specialists traveled to Eglin AFB to conduct a site survey of the doomed aircraft, where it was determined that the major components required for the training aids were still intact and serviceable. .

“Obviously crashes are unfortunate, but when it comes to planes involved in an accident, I have always found that there is a silver lining and something to be gained,” Santos said. . “In terms of recycling and using the wreckage for other purposes, these kinds of innovative efforts save the DoD and taxpayers millions of dollars.”

In coordination with a US Navy unit also interested in some of the aircraft’s components for testing and evaluation purposes, an agreement was made between sister service units to move the aircraft to Hill, saving money time and money for both parties.

Airman 1st Class Andrew Simpson and Airman 1st Class Fabio Velazquez Gonzalez, both with the 388th Maintenance Squadron corrosion control workshop, work on the decontamination and surface sanding of a doomed F-35A Lightning II on July 20, 2021, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)

“Until now, maintenance training has been carried out using operational aircraft,” Tech said. Sgt. Dennis Corcoran, 372nd TRS. “Obviously this is a significant challenge as often units are not able to support training evolutions, simply due to operational commitments or the real need for jets requiring maintenance. to be immediately returned to flight condition, in order to maintain the squadron’s readiness requirements. “

He said these new training aids would alleviate many of these problems.

Technology. Sgt. Kevin Browning, 388th Corrosion Control NCOIC Maintenance Squadron, said the recovered aircraft was delivered in July and his team immediately began cleaning and making the entire airframe safe for the safety of those who would use the components.

“Our shop is involved in removing contaminants, cleaning up any liquid or chemical residue, cutting exposed burnt composites, and removing sharp edges or metal damage,” he said. “Then we prepare and paint the components, so that they can be handled safely. “

The next phase of the project will involve cutting the entire fuselage lengthwise and then into individual component sections. The sections will then be framed and mounted on supports to allow maintainers to access the training aids as much as possible.

“The whole process has been a team effort from the start and has only been possible through the time, effort and cooperation put forward by many individual Air Force professionals, as well as many highly trained Airmen from several units at Hill Air Force Base, ”Corcoran said.

The project is expected to be completed within the next year.

Airman 1st Class Evander Esperanza, 388th Maintenance Squadron Corrosion Control, works to remove jagged edges of carbon fiber on a doomed F-35A Lightning II Aug. 2, 2021, at Hill Air Force Base, in Utah. (Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)

The fuselage of a doomed F-35A Lightning II August 23, 2021, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, which has been decontaminated, painted, and secured for further handling. (Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)


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