Progress made on a salvaged F-35’s, repurposed for training aids

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  • By Todd Cromar 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Airmen here are currently involved in transforming a salvaged F-35A fuselage and F-35B cockpit into sectional training aids. Significant progress is being made on the two condemned aircraft, which were both involved in mishaps during the last several years, then scrapped after being considered unrepairable.

This innovative idea originated with Airmen in the 372nd Training Squadron, Det. 3, at Hill Air Force Base, and Dan Santos, F-35 Joint Program Office, who worked closely together to determine the feasibility and approvals needed to salvage the aircraft parts for training.

“After receiving the F-35A jet last year, the aircraft has been decontaminated and made safe, as well as the engine removed,” said Master Sgt. Andrew Wilkow, 372nd TRS. “We found that except for the nose section, nearly all the components and systems inside the F-35A fuselage were in surprisingly good condition and ideal for usability as training aids.”

Wilkow was then able to arrange the assistance and volunteer cooperation of a well-known civilian saw manufacturing company, to have the entire fuselage completely sawed in half, lengthwise, as a product demonstration.

“We looked at possibly tearing down each individual system in order to create its own individual aid,” continued Wilkow. “But found that, because of the way the bulkheads are designed, it would be better to leave the fuselage essentially in tack, but in two halves, then do training instruction on multiple systems, in their original respective location within the jet.”

The plan is to permanently mount each complete half-fuselage section on stands, at actual real world height, giving trainees the opportunity to remove exterior panels and practice maintenance on all components and systems in their normal orientation and position.

309th Aircraft Maintenance Group engineers will be designing the permanent stand fixtures, then 388th Maintenance Group machinists will work with them to fabricate and build the fixtures.

“We were able to work with the Aircraft Battle Damage Repair section in the Ogden Air Logistics Complex to use some of the materials they have in stock, which we will then backfill from the 388th materiel order, allowing us to move forward with the training facility without long delays waiting on material.”

A nose section was acquired from a condemned Marine Corps F-35B aircraft as well, but it had several exterior panels missing, which required Wilkow to work with the advanced composite program office on base to fabricate replacements.

A canopy deemed unserviceable and unfit for flight was also obtained, which appears new, and will replace the original canopy destroyed in the aircraft accident.

In order to support the aircraft sections, a permanent training classroom is being prepared to house the training aids by converting and remodeling a large un-used garage bay located in the 372nd training building.

“Until now, maintenance training has been accomplished using operational aircraft,” said Tech. Sgt. Dennis Corcoran, 372nd TRS. “Obviously, this is a significant challenge because often units are unable to support training evolutions, simply due to operational commitments or the real-world need for jets to be immediately returned to flying status, in order to maintain the squadron’s readiness requirements.”

The creation of this indoor training facility will allow for F-35 maintainers to receive “anytime” instruction on an entire F-35 in a climate-controlled environment, while also saving on wear and tear of the service’s operational aircraft.

“I believe creating training aids from salvage aircraft, which the Air Force already owns and were destined to be scrapped, benefits everyone involved and the Air Force as a whole,” said Wilkow.

Wilkow added he is “grateful” for the support this “non-traditional project” has received from leadership, and the cooperation demonstrated by units and organizations across different commands involved in the project.