Initial workload on F-22 complete

Cutline: Mechanics from the 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group F-22 Division install the Night Air-to-Air Refueling modification on an F-22. Courtesy photo

Cutline: Mechanics from the 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group F-22 Division install the Night Air-to-Air Refueling modification on an F-22. Courtesy photo

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Almost a year after the first F-22 arrived for maintenance at Hill AFB with much fanfare, the final aircraft in the initial contract workload was quietly completed and flown back to Langley AFB, Va., on April 2.

The workload presented challenges to the F-22 Division, 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group, but the 36 mechanics and support staff -- assisted by the 649th Combat Logistics Support Squadron and Lockheed Martin -- completed the job early, with no late deliveries and no reported defects.

"The technicians accomplished the NAAR modification in conjunction with training the workforce, operating from temporary facilities and accomplishing nine additional modifications," said Guy Phillips, F-22 Aircraft Maintenance Division chief. "Not bad for the first year in business!"

The F-22 work started April 3, 2006, and involved modifying the aircraft to add lights that improve night air-to-air refueling -- NAAR -- capability. Eighteen jets were modified as part of the workload, with the first one completed on May 12, 2006.

"The last several aircraft were finished on a 20- to 21-day flow rate which is a 20 percent decrease," Mr. Phillips said, "even with the challenges."

When the aircraft arrived, few of the mechanics had seen an F-22 and hadn't been trained to work on it. Technicians were sent to Field Training Detachment School at Nellis AFB, Nev., and Tyndall AFB, Fla., and also received supplemental training by their Lockheed Martin contract partners.

"They needed about two and a half months of training," Mr. Phillips said. "Those who learned the coating process had the most training. It's a new skill, so there wasn't any training available here. We have since added our own internal training for coatings with the help of Lockheed Martin and our own training section."

While the 309 AMXG mechanics were trained, Airmen from the 649 CLSS did the maintenance and coatings work.

"The 649th assumed the F-22 Aircraft Battle Damage Repair mission about a year before our first aircraft landed, so we had some organic capability already," Mr. Phillips said. "They were instrumental in our success and still provide training and surge capability as well as expeditionary maintenance for field units."

Starting the F-22 workload almost a year earlier than planned required a total team effort. A converted fuel dock and a C-130 hangar originally housed the work, and mechanics from other aircraft squadrons teamed together to get it finished. It is the first new aircraft workload for Hill AFB since the A-10 was brought from Sacramento Air Logistics Center, Calif., in the late 1990s.

With the workload completed, the squadron isn't stopping. Already they're on day 11 of a Structural Retrofit Plan for older F-22s.

"It is a brand new workload, unassociated with the 18 NAARs we just completed," Mr. Phillips said. "Part of it is structural modifications, and every-other aircraft includes the NAAR mods, so we're not out of the NAAR business. The new workload is three-to-four times larger than the one we just completed -- a 6,000 to 9,000 hour package -- and is the second largest in the aircraft group."

The SRP workload will modify F-22s sent from Nellis and Tyndall.

"We're getting some of the earlier block F-22s from 2001 and 2002," said Brad Harmon, 309 AMXG Weapon System Support. "The SRP we're doing now involves pulling the wings and doing some metal enhancement. We have another structural enhancement modification that is scheduled to start around October."

"That's one of the challenges of the workload," Mr. Phillips added. "It changes so fast. We stayed with NAAR for a year, now we're going to SRP and it changes in another six or seven months. We have an ever-changing workload that is difficult to plan to, difficult to train to -- that's the challenging part of it. And that's probably the part we like best.

"The F-22 is a great machine -- we love them, and pilots love them and say they're easy to fly. They are a beast on the ground but beautiful in the air and fast as well. They're pretty awesome."