F-35A Fighters Require Six Months of Remedial Work
(Source: Defense-Aerospace.com; published March 27, 2014)
By Giovanni de Briganti
The 21st F-35A fighter for the US Air Force, AF-21, arrived at Hill AFB on Sept. 20, 2013 and left six months later, on March 25, 2014, after going through a complex remediation program. (USAF photo)
PARIS --- F-35A fighters leaving the Lockheed Martin final assembly line at Fort Worth, Texas, require six months of remedial work before they are ready to be tested, according to the US Air Force.

Furthermore, different aircraft require different fixes, which implies the assembly line produces aircraft that are built to varying standards, which leads to longer fixes and increased costs as the benefits of the learning curve and of economies of scale are diluted.

The remedial process for F-35As delivered to the US Air Force is described in a March 25 news story produced by the air force’s 75th Air Base Wing at Hill air force base, Utah, home of the Ogden Air Logistics Complex. The story is reproduced below.

Several points contained in this story detail a complex and no doubt expensive process that F-35As require life extension fixes less than a year after coming off the assembly line, and also require major modifications before they are even capable of being tested.

The story reveals several interesting details about the state of the F-35As rolling off the assembly line:

The first aircraft to go through the remedial process is AF-21, the 21st US Air Force F-35A variant. It carries the USAF serial number 10-5009, and according to Lockheed it made its first flight at Fort Worth on Oct. 20, 2012.

The aircraft arrived at Hill AFB on Sept. 20, 2013, 11 months after its first flight. At the time, Lockheed said that “This aircraft will receive a series of structural and systems modifications at Ogden to enhance critical capabilities needed during the Block 2B Operational Testing and Evaluation, or OT&E, program in 2015.”

The remedial work took six months and was completed on March 25, 2014. In other words, since its first flight 18 months ago, this particular aircraft has been grounded for repairs one-third of the time.

The remedial work at Hill AFB was carried out by 47 people (“more than 30 Ogden ALC maintainers and 17 Lockheed Martin engineers and production staff,”), so the labor needed to fix its faults totals about 23.5 man-years, even allowing for “new and improved ways of doing the modifications [that] were discovered” during the process.

Given payroll costs, material costs and amortization of the F-35-related equipment at Hill AFB, the cost of these fixes clearly exceeds several million dollars. Payroll expenses alone would amount to $2-$3 million, depending on the pay grades of the military personnel and contractors involved.

The story says the work was carried out “under the umbrella of a public-private partnership,” which implies that Lockheed-Martin will receive some form of payment to fix an aircraft that required major remedial work less than a year after it was delivered.

As noted above, the fixes required vary for each aircraft. The second aircraft to be modified, for example, is a Dutch F-35A, which made its first flight Aug. 6, 2012. It “will not get the engine mount modification,” the air force story says, “but is receiving a major modification to the fuel boost pumps.”

Left unexplained is why two aircraft coming off the same production line one month apart should require such different fixes.

The fact that these modifications “are intended to extend the life of the aircraft” is another intriguing point, since it is not clear why an aircraft still in low-rate production already needs to have its life extended.

Finally, Ogden is unlikely to fix faulty F-35As as fast as they come off the final assembly line. The air force says Ogden ALC will modify “six aircraft this fiscal year,” and “eight F-35s are expected to be inducted into the depot in FY15.”

The story below reveals and implies many things about the F-35 program, none of them good. (ends)

Ogden ALC Completes Organic Mods On First F-35
(Source: US Air Force 75th Air Base Wing; issued March 25, 2014)
HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --- The Ogden Air Logistics Complex completed the Air Force's first organic depot modifications on an F-35 Lightning II.

The F-35A variant aircraft, arrived at Hill AFB in mid-September 2013, and received four structural modifications intended to strengthen areas of the aircraft and extend its service life.

Maj. Gen. H. Brent Baker Sr., the Ogden ALC commander, credited the phenomenal teamwork that occurred between the Ogden ALC, Lockheed Martin and F-35 Joint Program Office for successfully completing the modifications.

"It was a team effort with the Ogden ALC providing the touch labor and Lockheed Martin providing engineering support," Baker said.

The aircraft departed March 25 for Nellis AFB, Nev., where it will undergo continued operational testing.

Baker said this first F-35 aircraft was what's called a prototype modification aircraft because in the process of outfitting the modifications, the depot was also able to solidify its technical processes.

This was the first time the Ogden ALC accomplished depot work on the aircraft, and new and improved ways of doing the modifications were discovered. In the end, each of the findings will formally be rolled into improving the existing technical guidance, Baker said, which will be used for subsequent F-35 repairs.

More than 30 Ogden ALC maintainers and 17 Lockheed Martin engineers and production staff accomplished the modifications under the umbrella of a public-private partnership.

"When it comes to Air Force depot maintenance on the F-35, the vast majority of the learning and experience is happening right here at the Ogden ALC," Baker said.

The first of the four structural modifications made to the aircraft included a root rib modification, which replaces a section of the aircraft's wing root rib with a titanium splice. The other modifications, also structural, involved a station 3/9 modification, a mid-fairing fitting, and a forward engine mount modification, all of which are intended to extend the life of the aircraft.

The process concluded with a series of functional check flights to ensure the modifications were performed correctly and that other systems on the aircraft unrelated to the changes were not disturbed.

The Ogden ALC received its second Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, a Dutch F-35, on Feb. 14. A third U.S.-owned jet arrived on March 15.

The Dutch aircraft is expected to undergo three of the four modifications performed on the first aircraft before it returns to Eglin AFB, Fla., for more operational testing this summer. It will not get the engine mount modification, but is receiving a major modification to the fuel boost pumps.

This second aircraft is more of a validation/verification aircraft, Baker said, which means that while it's getting the planned modifications, the skilled artisans who work on the aircraft will continue to validate and verify that the formalized technical guidance is 100 percent accurate.

The Ogden ALC is expected to perform a series of modifications on a total of six aircraft this fiscal year. Eight F-35s are expected to be inducted into the depot in FY15.

Baker said it took more than two years to prepare the Ogden ALC for this new F-35 depot work and as workload increases, manning is also expected to increase.

The F-35 is important for the Air Force and Hill AFB, Baker said, because the F-35 will eventually be the heir to the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the A-10 Thunderbolt II. The Ogden ALC already performs depot maintenance, repair, overhaul and modification on the F-16 and A-10.

"It is exciting to see this entire plan come to fruition and work on the aircraft." Baker said. "It has been incredibly rewarding for the team."


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