EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- When the Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team begins testing the F-35 this month, maintenance personnel will be fully self-sufficient and prepared to transition to flight operations. By the time the first aircraft arrives, personnel will have successfully completed all initial training requirements and have already demonstrated the ability to perform specialized maintenance tasks on the 5th generation stealth fighter.
A delay in the aircraft's arrival provided the unique opportunity to meet initial training requirements and integrate maintainers into the team ahead of schedule - a great benefit to the operational test team.
"The training provided to operational test maintenance personnel will enable them to immediately and professionally start maintaining their aircraft upon arrival. This vital preparation reduces additional training requirements, boosts aircraft availability, and equates to a considerable amount of savings to the government," said Lt. Col. George Schwartz, 461st Flight Test Squadron commander.
For more than 18 months, developmental test personnel from the F-35 Integrated Test Force have been responsible for training operational maintainers from the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron and Marine Tiltrotor Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 22; the marines who will maintain the F-35B Short Takeoff Vertical Landing variant. Seventy-six personnel have successfully completed the program with 15 maintainers currently participating.
"With a new weapon system and a new acquisitions system, this is how you get people necessary hands-on experience with the aircraft before the school house is stood-up," said Mary Parker, 461st FLTS Logistics deputy. "The operational test aircraft has been delayed, so we used this opportunity to get everyone trained on the developmental test aircraft. It was an avenue to get operational maintainers trained ahead of schedule."
Training includes four weeks of intensive classroom study, and upon successful completion, the maintainers begin two weeks of gaining valuable hands-on experience before they are fully integrated into the maintenance team.
"Before participating in the hands-on training, personnel have to go through cadre training, known as 'Type 1 Training.' It is four weeks in a classroom reviewing charts and taking tests on various systems such as propulsion or avionics. Then maintainers begin their hands-on training where they learn how to marshal and service the aircraft. In total, there is about two weeks of the task certification for various functions," Parker said.
After maintainers complete the six weeks of training, their records are loaded into the Training Management System (TMS). The system is a component of the Autonomic Logistics Information System and tracks all training completed by each individual.
ALIS is a revolutionary system that electronically links together aircraft records, supply-chain management, joint technical data and the TMS. The user-friendly system is managed through a portable maintenance aid, similar to a laptop, to maximize accessibility.
With the records loaded into the system, maintenance personnel can begin working on an assigned aircraft.
"Once it shows in the system that they have been trained to complete a specific task, then we hand them over to the aircraft supervisors and they are completely integrated into the maintenance team that works on the aircraft day-in and day-out. Specialties such as Avionics, Propulsion and crew chiefs are assigned to the team, while other Air Force Specialty Codes, such as Low Observable/Structural Maintenance, Fuels and Egress only work on the aircraft when there is a task in their functional area of expertise," said Parker.
The training program's success has made significant progress towards the standup of the JSF Operational Test Team, which is co-located with the developmental test team at Edwards.
Additionally, operational and developmental test personnel have forged a strong working relationship that will continue to benefit the program in all phases of testing, previously demonstrated by the success of AIM-9X captive carry testing this past February. It was an operational test weapons team that loaded the missile onto AF-1.
"Not only will this hands-on experience accelerate operational test capabilities to perform launch, recovery, servicing and maintenance tasks on their assigned aircraft, but we have built a strong relationship with the JSF Operational Test Team here at Edwards and this relationship will continue to provide positive benefits to both the developmental and operational testing communities," said Schwartz.