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Juggling F-35s: Schedulers help keep fleet healthy, balancing required maintenance and availability

A photo of a maintenance scheduler

Senior Airman Glorimar Lagares, 4th Fighter Generation Squadron lead maintenance scheduler, speaks with Master Sgt. Marcos Flores at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Dec. 9, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

A photo of a maintenance scheduler

Senior Airman Glori Lagares, 4th Fighter Generation Squadron lead maintenance scheduler, works on F-35A Lightning II maintenance data at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Dec. 9, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- When it comes to maintenance on America’s most advanced fifth generation fighter, there’s one office that functions as the hub for information needed to sustain the health of the fleet, the 388th Logistics Support Squadrons’ Plans, Scheduling and Documentation section.

“We schedule and plan all future maintenance actions for each aircraft in the fleet, as well as all the aircraft components,” said Master Sgt. Heather Higgins, section chief.

Just like cars go in for routine oil changes and tire rotations every few thousand miles, fighter aircraft need scheduled (and sometimes unscheduled) maintenance or inspections to make sure they are in the best possible working conditions, said Master Sgt. David Vijil, maintenance operations flight chief.

“Much of the work that is done by our PS+D airmen is behind the scenes, but that doesn’t make it less essential to our ability to globally project power with the F-35,” said Lt. Col. Caleb Guthmann, Logistics Support Squadron commander. “This team is the thread that holds the tapestry of the wing’s combat power together as they daily manage and sustain a $7.5B resource.”

The plans section looks over the entire fleet and works with flight line maintainers to schedule aircraft and components for recurring maintenance or inspections, or even fleet-wide parts replacements that need to be properly sourced and scheduled and replaced immediately.

“It’s really a customer-service oriented career field,” Higgins said. “I like that from day to day the workload that we tackle is going to be different.”

There are 78 F-35A Lightning IIs assigned to the 388th Fighter Wing, so schedulers perform a constant juggling act. They’re goal is to keep as many aircraft available as possible to generate training sorties and be ready for short-notice combat taskings every day.

Three Airmen from the section are assigned to work in the 4th, 34th and 421st Fighter Generation Squadrons as liaisons to the production superintendents. In each FGS, there is a lead scheduler, an engine scheduler and a documentation scheduler, who help ensure maintainers are servicing or inspecting aircraft, parts and components at the proper times.

“We maintain the documents and the maintenance data that is essential for each aircraft in the squadron,” said Senior Airman Glori Lagares, 4th Fighter Generation Squadron lead scheduler. “We take all that and develop a plan that assists in maximizing each aircraft’s availability.”  

Schedulers have to be multi-taskers and good communicators who attend a lot of meetings and sometimes get caught in the middle of the aircraft’s maintenance demands and the flight line’s demand for sorties.

But Lagares, who is from Brooklyn, New York, joined the Air Force two years ago and loves the stability of her job, the education provided and the deployment opportunities. She’s already deployed once, to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.

“I didn’t want your typical “dainty” little job,” Lagares said. “The Air Force has given me a lot of options. I have earned my bachelor’s degree. I can apply for an officer commission or I can go for my master’s degree.”