Hill maintainers learning additional F-35A specialties in streamlining initiative

Senior Airman Devon Charmichael, a Low-Observable technician, prepares to launch an F-35A Jan 31, 2018, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Launching aircraft is historically done by the crew chief, but 388th FW maintainers participating in the Blended Operational Lightning Technicians, or BOLTs, program are learning other maintainer responsibilities in an
effort to create a smaller maintenance footprint. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Senior Airman Devon Charmichael, a Low-Observable technician, prepares to launch an F-35A Jan 31, 2018, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Launching aircraft is historically done by the crew chief, but 388th FW maintainers participating in the Blended Operational Lightning Technicians, or BOLTs, program are learning other maintainer responsibilities in an effort to create a smaller maintenance footprint. (U.S. Air Force photo)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- F-35A maintainers in the 388th Fighter Wing are becoming proficient in additional maintenance skills allowing them to launch and recover aircraft with fewer people when deployed.

Seventeen Hill maintainers are on a yearlong journey to be F-35A BOLTs, or Blended Operational Lightning Technicians, in the job specialty of crew chief, fuels, avionics, egress, weapons and low observable (stealth).

The maintainers began training to learn each other’s job in January and are on two education tracks.

The Air Vehicle track teaches crew chiefs, fuels and low observable and the Mission Systems track teaches avionics, egress and weapons.

Maintainers who already have that specific specialty are the subject matter experts when training other members of the group.

“What we’re doing here is training people who can help each other out,” said Master Sgt. James Killian, 388th Maintenance Group BOLT Mission Systems lead. “We’re not waiting as long. I can have an LO (low observable) guy out there doing the launch and recovery and he can roll into his inspection right at the aircraft instead of calling in people. And then it’s 20 minutes for this and 30 minutes for that.”

Col. Michael Miles, 388th Maintenance Group commander, saw the merits of a similar program at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, and partnered with the 56th Maintenance Group there and Lockheed Martin to move the project forward at Hill.

“Luke has a similar program, called LIT (Lightning Integrated Technician), but our program is a little different,” Miles said. "Our BOLT maintainers will perform sortie generation with a small agile footprint supporting adaptive basing initiatives, unlocking the F-35s full sortie generation potential, and garnering manpower savings designed into the weapons system. I'm extremely proud that our Airmen continue to break down barriers and bring the future faster."

While in training, the team is completely responsible for all the maintenance on a particular 388th FW F-35.
“We train, we launch and we recover the aircraft together,” Killian said. “We do all the maintenance action for aircraft 5085. That’s our BOLT team aircraft. When that jet flies, we’ve got it.”

Killian said people are motivated and excited to be part of the team because they want to learn about the jet and stay engaged.

“Our maintainers want to be more involved in things and this enables them to be more involved,” he said. “They don’t want to just be one dimensional. They want to learn more. They want to be pushed to be better and this gives them a greater understanding of how the aircraft operates and its capabilities. Ultimately, it makes them better mechanics.”

Staff Sgt. Ronald Olivier, 388th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron avionics and a pioneer BOLT member agreed this is making him a better mechanic and is happy to be on the team.

“Any time you can acquire more knowledge, you become a better mechanic and better technician,” Oliver said. “This is a really cool opportunity to learn other things. If you’re only knowledgeable in one area, they you’re kind of confined to that. If you’re opened up to different fields, there are more opportunities to advance in your career and to advance the jet.”

The first operational F-35As arrived at Hill AFB in October 2015. Hill will be home to three operational squadrons by the end of 2019. The active duty 388th and Reserve 419th FWs fly and maintain the aircraft in a Total Force partnership.