US Air Force pilots and maintenance crew at Eglin Air Force Base are not short on praise when it comes to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Overall, claims state that the F-35 is outperforming previous models of fighter jets, boasting the model’s maintenance stability, software and hardware.
“Once the JSF is airborne there are very limited issues, with the aircraft’s hardware, software and Pratt & Whitney F135 engine all performing well,” says Col. Andrew Toth, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing. Though he continues, “We’re a very young system and we still have very long way to go.”
“The system right now is behaving as advertised, [although] occasionally, we will have some issues with it on the ground,” he says. “However, this is usually easily fixed by shutting the aircraft down and then restarting it.”
Sgt Skyler DeBoer, a senior maintainer with the 33rd Fighter Wing, who has previous experience on the Lockheed F-22 Raptor and F-117 Nighthawk programs says the F-35 is outperforming the Raptor. He attributes part of the improvement to better maintenance training.
“F-35 maintainers have received far more extensive instruction at this early stage of the JSF program than on the F-22,” he says.
The F-22 lagged behind the new F-35 in contractor support, too, says DeBoer. The F-35’s automatic logistics information system sends out responses that are often received within hours, so requests to address specific problems can be handled much more rapidly than was possible with previous jet models.
Maintenance issues are further reduced from the Raptor Model by advancements in stealth coating technology and application. Lockheed Martin reports that some of the F-35’s stealth materials are baked into the jet’s composite skin, so it is not easily degraded. Also, many of the fasteners and access panels are not coated, reducing the work time for crews.