EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
The first Air Force core-trained F-35 maintainers have become noncommissioned officers during July and August, here.
To this point, the leaders who are responsible for maintenance on the F-35A were selected and funneled into the program from legacy aircraft. These new NCOs have been raised in the fifth-generation Air Force and will form the backbone of the Air Force as it gravitates towards the new generation of aircraft.
“They are creating the baseline and foundation for maintenance,” said Chief Master Sgt. Ryan Brown, 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit chief. “Every platform has cultures and subcultures. They bring a whole new skill set to the game, so I see them as the future of the F-35 culture.”
In order to facilitate the manning needed to maintain the F-35 enterprise, personnel were redistributed from the F-16, F15, A-10 and C-130. With those Airmen, came the knowledge and experience of maintenance practices from each of those platforms.
“It gave us the people we needed, who had a lot of experience,” Brown said. “The breadth of knowledge from legacy platforms is what got our unit and this aircraft where it is today. These maintainers are the first to learn this weapons system without influence from previous airframes, a necessary and unique perspective.
Maintainers with fourth generation experience bring mechanical prowess to the team, while those trained in the F-35 pipeline bring a complete and total understanding of new systems and maintenance practices.
“The F-35 works differently, even from the other fifth generation aircraft,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Taylor, 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “It’s like comparing someone who has learned a language to someone who was raised speaking it. While someone can learn the language and be fluent in it, a native speaker is likely to be better versed in that language.”
New aircraft programs in the Air Force, including the F-35, rely on expertise from other platforms to build the community. As Airmen who have come through the F-35 pipeline take on larger roles and become leaders within the maintenance community, a new and unique culture is emerging.
“Now it’s our culture,” Brown said. “Five to 10 years from now, what we did on legacy aircraft won’t matter as much, because we will have our own culture and processes to fall back on.”
Having the experience of learning about the F-35 from the beginning of their career while being involved with legacy maintainers during the beginning of their career puts these new staff sergeants in a position where they can bring the fourth and fifth generations together.
“Everyone from different backgrounds brings different skills,” said Staff Sgt. Marcos Cruz La Santa, 33 AMXS avionics systems technician. “(Fourth-generation maintainers) have a lot of knowledge they bring to the table which is useful when we are working towards a common goal.”
These new NCOs are also well equipped to lead new Airmen coming through the program because they have experienced the pipeline of training first hand.
“My main concern right now is teaching these younger guys how to work with and grow with the program,” Cruz said. “A lot of the NCOs in the program are legacy but these new Airmen coming through now are F-35 only. They are looking at me like, ‘if he can do it and still relate to us and other people in the career field, then I can as well.’”
Cruz understands the significance in his role, however his perspective is to look towards the future of the program.
“There’s a lot of pressure that comes with it. One day our team of core F-35 guys will be leading, not just following what our predecessors did, but creating our own fifth-gen culture,” Cruz continued. “It’s great now because I can live in the moment and visualize what is coming in our future -- how we can improve and influence this program.”