Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) marked a milestone in its support of the F-35 Lightning II program when the depot inducted its 100th F-35 for modifications June 11. The induction signifies more than just a number â€“ it represents eight years of efforts to stand up and grow the F-35 modification line at the depot. While the program has been improving efficiency and strengthening partnerships, the workforce modifying the aircraft has made gains in knowledge, which helps them quickly and competently address any new aircraft issues that might arise.
In addition to marking a milestone, the 100th F-35 induction also serves as a stepping stone to the future of the program at the depot, FRCE site lead for the F-35 Joint Program Office. An additional workload of F-35 components, a new lift fan facility and expansion of the F-35 aircraft line’s capacity are all coming into view on the horizon. The facilities, skills and knowledge of the artisans and strong partnerships that have facilitated the growth of the F-35 program at FRCE since its first induction have laid the groundwork for future success.
“The team has come a long way since the first induction, and is one of the most dedicated teams I have been a part of. This platform has challenges that are unlike most others, and the team takes them head on. FRCE is 100 percent behind the partnered effort to make the F-35 program successful and, although we are only one piece of the pie in the enterprise, we take pride in supplying the warfighter with a capable and quality aircraft. “Although 100 is a great milestone, there are still may more years to go in support of the F-35,” FRCE F-35 Branch Head Ike Rettenmair said.
FRCE inducted its first F-35 aircraft for modification in July 2013 after having just eight months to prepare for the workload, said Jeanie Holder, the F-35 Joint Program Office induction manager at FRCE. Despite the compressed timeline, the facility was able to induct its first F-35B short takeoff-vertical landing variant on schedule, and has since proven capabilities on the remaining two aircraft variants: the F-35C carrier variant, and the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant.
As the F-35 program continues to grow at the depot, Crisp said he anticipates even further development of the key support elements. For example, FRCE declared capabilities on several F-35 components in 2020 – meaning FRCE is now a verified source of repair and testing for these items â€“ and is on track to declare for additional components this year and in the future. A lift fan facility scheduled for groundbreaking this year will provide FRCE with one of only two sites in the world that can service that system, and the F-35 program has plans for expanding the amount of aircraft FRCE can accommodate at once.
FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. The success of the F-35 program at FRCE, lies with the depot’s people, and those people will continue to push for excellence as the program grows into the future. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.