AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy – Maintainers in an innovative 388th Maintenance Group program have taken two huge steps while developing a program that continues to push and streamline F-35A Lightning II sustainment.
These “BOLT” maintainers are currently deployed alongside the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit and the 421st Fighter Squadron during a Theater Security Package to Europe, and they’ve sent the first 388th Fighter Wing maintainer to ever be qualified in six different aspects of F-35 maintenance.
The Blended Operational Lightning Technician program combines maintenance-specific Air Force Specialty Codes, essentially job descriptions, into two career tracks. Maintainers in the Air Vehicle track are crew chiefs, fuels and low observable technicians. Airmen in the Mission Systems track focus on avionics, weapons, and egress.
This training allows a single Airmen to perform multiple inspections and do the associated work required in areas they are qualified in. They don’t have to wait for qualified Airmen from other specialties to complete inspections or any required fixes on the aircraft.
“The BOLT airmen that are here with us offer widespread benefit. They will allow us to deploy the same aircraft with a smaller number of Airmen than we would at home station,” said 388th Maintenance Group commander, Col. Michael Miles. “This is a new way to train our airmen to be more operationally focused, and that ties directly to the primary mission sets of the F-35A.”
The goal of the BOLT program is less down time, more productivity and a smaller maintenance footprint required for each jet. Reducing the size of the maintenance force allows commanders more combat flexibility for quickly deploying a small number of aircraft to a remote airfield with fewer airmen.
Succeeding in the program is challenging and can seem overwhelming because many Airmen want to be experts at everything as soon as they enter. But, the ones who catch on are better equipped in their careers because this type of maintenance is “inevitable” in the future, said BOLT lead, Master Sgt. Dantorrie Herring.
Tech Sgt. Jesse Mitchell, currently deployed with the 421st FS in support of the multi-national exercise Astral Knight 2019, is the first maintainer to be qualified in all six functions. He is able to sign-off on fixes to any area that may be keeping a jet from flying. He's been a BOLT maintainer since January 2018.
“I love BOLT,” said Mitchell, a native of Wichita, Kansas. “I think it’s a personality thing. I don’t stagnate. It was a challenge learning all these different areas, but I studied. I got a lot of hands-on training from the experts in each area and it’s paid off.”
Mitchell, a former F-16 maintainer, entered the F-35 world as a crew chief, then learned avionics – basically all the “fun systems the pilots get to play with” – and just kept going until he had completed all the others: fuels, low-observable maintenance, weapons and egress. Now, he is able to clear a “red x” in any of those six systems and return a jet to flying status. It’s a rare achievement.
Currently, there are nearly 60 Airmen in the 388th Fighter Wing BOLT program.
“This is just a starting point for our BOLT maintainers,” Miles said. “We’ll be doing other things with them (throughout our time in Europe) and we’ll take the lessons learned and weave them into our planning for the next time we’re tasked.”