Air Force supplements F-35 at sea

  • Published

The Air Force’s 33rd Maintenance Squadron provided training and support to F-35C Lightning II operations aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln from Aug. 30 to Sept. 7, 2017.


Two Airmen and two Sailors from the aerospace ground equipment flight and the wheel and tire shop qualified Abraham Lincoln Sailors to operate F-35 support equipment, bringing the U.S. Navy one step closer to initial operations capability.


"We are the most qualified unit to (train these Sailors)," said Staff Sgt. Mark Gower, 33rd MXS wheel and tire technician. "We have been working with this jet the longest because the 33rd Fighter Wing was the first unit to receive the F-35 from the test community."


With this training, the Abraham Lincoln's aviation structural mechanics are now qualified to tear down, inspect, clean, rebuild and service wheel assemblies.


Additionally, AGE technicians trained carrier Sailors to operate the systems that support an aircraft while its engines are off.


"Our equipment mimics the systems an F-35 uses; providing heating and cooling, hydraulic pressure and electricity," said Airman 1st Class Elizandro Chapa, 33rd MXS AGE technician. "We work with this equipment on a daily basis at home station, so we are able to come here and pass what we know to other units."


The Airmen and Sailor’s role extended beyond training for this embark, they were also directly supporting carrier qualification for F-35C pilots.


Strike Fighter Squadron 101 and VFA-125 flew six aircraft aboard the Abraham Lincoln to execute initial carrier qualification for 13 pilots, training that cannot be replicated on-shore. This qualification requires pilots to take off and land the jet during day and night operations.


"We do this to learn the capabilities of the aircraft and hone our abilities in a carrier environment," said Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Coulter, VFA-101 instructor pilot. "The training we put in now will allow us to focus on implementing the aircraft as intended in the future."


This is the second time both fighter squadrons have deployed from an aircraft carrier at sea to gain experience using the arresting gears and working with the full complement of flight deck personnel on the ship.


"Every time the F-35 embarks on an aircraft carrier there are many lessons learned," Coulter said. "While we are at sea we are able to accomplish flight deck familiarization for pilots and maintainers alike, while attaining the carrier qualifications we need as pilots and landing signal officers."


 The Navy currently has plans for several more underways with the F-35C, where the 33rd MXS will continue to train and qualify Abraham Lincoln maintainers on these systems.


"That’s the whole point of this aircraft being a joint program," Coulter said. "The 33rd MXS is a part of future integration of the F-35C and all of the U.S. Navy carriers. It comes down to being prepared at all times for whatever we are tasked with. Once the F-35C reaches Initial Operational Capability, it will be a tool at the Navy's disposal. We will be ready to sustain this aircraft's operations so we can carry out the mission sets we are directed to."