U.S. Air Force Airmen here are currently involved in transforming a condemned F-35A Lightning II into sectional training aids for use during instruction of F-35 maintainers. The aircraft was involved in a landing mishap at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in 2020. The pilot safety ejected, but the aircraft burned after impact and was considered unrepairable. After the accident, Airmen in the 372nd Training Squadron, Det. 3, at Hill AFB sought the aircraft as a chance to bolster maintenance training opportunities for military and civilian F-35 maintainers assigned to the base’s 388th Fighter Wing, 419th Fighter Wing, and Ogden Air Logistics Complex.
Since the 372nd TRS previously worked with the F-35 Joint Program Office on another F-35 mishap aircraft project last spring to successfully re-install the wings of an F-35 and turn it into an aircraft battle damage trainer, this time the JPO called to return the favor and offer assistance to the 372nd. A small team of aircraft specialists traveled to Eglin AFB to accomplish a site survey of the condemned aircraft, where it was determined that major components needed for the training aids were still intact and usable. In coordination with a U.S. Navy unit also interested in some of the aircraft’s components for test and evaluation, an arrangement was made between the sister service units to relocate the aircraft to Hill, saving time and money for both parties.
“Initially, the jet was to be scrapped and destroyed. However, we explored the possibility that some parts such as avionics, fuel cell and gun system might still be in relative pristine condition inside the damaged crust and usable for training” said Master Sgt. Andrew Wilkow, 372nd TRS.
“Obviously, accidents are unfortunate, but when it comes to aircraft involved in a mishap, I have always found that there is a silver lining and something to be gained. In terms of the wreckage being recycled and used for other purposes, these kinds of innovative efforts save the DoD and taxpayers millions of dollars,” Dan Santos, F-35 JPO heavy maintenance manager said.
These new training aids will alleviate a good portion of those issues. The salvaged aircraft was delivered in July and his team immediately started work cleaning and making the entire airframe non-hazardous for the safety of those who will use the components. The workshop is involved with removing contaminants, cleaning up any fluid or chemical residue, trimming off exposed burnt composites, and removing sharp edges or metal damage. The next phase of the project will include cutting the entire fuselage lengthwise and then into individual component sections. The sections will then be framed and mounted on stands to give maintainers as much access as possible to the training aids. The project is expected to be completed during the next year.