Agile BOLT Maintainers Support F-35 Deployment
(Source: US Air Force; issued June 05, 2019)
A BOLT mission systems technician performs preflight checks on an F-35A fighter at Aviano Air Base, in NE Italy. Airmen from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, are in Europe as part of a Theater Security Package. (USAF photo)
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --- Maintainers in an innovative 388th Maintenance Group have taken two huge steps while developing a program that continues to push and streamline F-35A Lightning II sustainment.

These Blended Operational Lightning Technician or BOLT maintainers are currently deployed alongside the 421st Fighter Squadron during a Theater Security Package to Europe and they’ve sent the first 388th Fighter Wing maintainer to ever be qualified in six different aspects of F-35 maintenance.

The BOLT program combines maintenance-specific Air Force specialty codes, essentially job descriptions, into two career tracks. Maintainers in the air vehicle track are crew chiefs, fuels and low observable technicians. Airmen in the mission systems track focus on avionics, weapons and egress.

This training allows a single Airman to perform multiple inspections and do the associated work required in areas where they are qualified. They don’t have to wait for qualified Airmen from other specialties to complete inspections or any required fixes on the aircraft.

“The BOLT Airmen who are here with us offer widespread benefit. They will allow us to deploy the same aircraft with a smaller number of Airmen than we would at home station,” said Col. Michael Miles, 388th Maintenance Group commander. “This is a new way to train our Airmen to be more operationally focused and that ties directly to the primary mission sets of the F-35A.”

The goal of the BOLT program is less down time, more productivity and a smaller maintenance footprint required for each jet. Reducing the size of the maintenance force allows commanders more combat flexibility for quickly deploying a small number of aircraft to a remote airfield with fewer Airmen.

Succeeding in the program is challenging and can seem overwhelming because many Airmen want to be experts at everything as soon as they enter. But the ones who catch on are better equipped in their careers because this type of maintenance is “inevitable” in the future, said Master Sgt. Dantorrie Herring, BOLT lead.

Tech Sgt. Jesse Mitchell, currently deployed with the 421st Fighter Squadron05227 in support of the multinational exercise Astral Knight 2019, is the first maintainer to be qualified in all six functions. He is able to sign-off on fixes to any area that may be keeping a jet from flying. He's been a BOLT maintainer since January 2018.

“I love BOLT,” said Mitchell, a native of Wichita, Kansas. “I think it’s a personality thing. I don’t stagnate. It was a challenge learning all these different areas, but I studied. I got a lot of hands-on training from the experts in each area and it’s paid off.”

Mitchell, a former F-16 Fighting Falcon maintainer, entered the F-35 world as a crew chief, then learned avionics – basically all the “fun systems the pilots get to play with” – and just kept going until he had completed all the others: fuels, low-observable maintenance, weapons and egress. Now, he is able to clear a “red x” in any of those six systems and return a jet to flying status. It’s a rare achievement.

Currently, there are nearly 60 Airmen in the 388th Fighter Wing BOLT program.

“This is just a starting point for our BOLT maintainers,” Miles said. “We’ll be doing other things with them (throughout our time in Europe) and we’ll take the lessons learned and weave them into our planning for the next time we’re tasked.”

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Astral Knight 2019: Maintainers Sharpen F-35A
(Source: US Air Force; issued June 05, 2019)
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --- Deployed maintainers of the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit prepare F-35A Lightning II fighter jets to contribute to exercise Astral Knight 2019 on the flight-line of Aviano Air Base, Italy.

Astral Knight 2019, a joint-multinational exercise led by U.S. Air Forces in Europe, aims to demonstrate the defense capabilities of the U.S. integrated air and missile defense system.

“This is the first overseas location that the 421st AMU’s F-35As has gone to,” said Master Sgt. John Ott, 421st AMU F-35A expediter. “Our duties include daily servicing and inspections, as well as logistics and coordination control to receive support on our aircraft and maintainers 24/7.”

The exercise provides maintainers with a complex mission to practice and master their craft. Through teamwork, experiences are passed down from legacy maintainers to newer maintainers to fully visualize a robust program.

“Our entire team is comprised of experts from F-16 Fighting Falcons, C-135 Stratolifters, C-130J Super Hercules, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and all types of legacy aircraft,” said Ott. “We get to have all their inputs from their vast experiences and channel that into a focal point to sharpen our F-35A mission systems.”

With a cohesive team, maintainers are able to forecast future maintenance issues that may arise and prepare a deployable spare package to prevent maintenance obstacles from halting the mission.

“A lot of the aspects that we see in a maintenance perspective is making sure we have the right parts in our deployable spare package,” said Capt. Kimberly Jackson, 421st AMU officer in charge. “The deployable spare package is tailored to the type of aircraft that we bring. Maintainers use data on how many times certain items fail to predict what replacements will be needed to complete the mission.”

The exercise has proven to the maintenance team how far they can stretch the constraints of their program and see how far they can take the F-35A aircraft.

“My maintainers exceed my expectations every day,” said Jackson. “My team is capable of deploying to other countries and accomplishing the mission. We want to keep our momentum so we can maintain our performance for further exercises.”

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