Here’s how Tinker Air Force Base cut heavy maintenance time for F-35 engines in half

WASHINGTON — A choosing wave, system overhauls, and new tools and products have aided a U.S. Air Force base minimize by much more than 50 percent the time it normally takes to fix and overhaul F-35 engines, from an typical 244 days to 106.

And the commander of the base’s Oklahoma Metropolis Air Logistics Sophisticated hopes that in two yrs, if it will get the needed sources, Tinker Air Pressure Base will be capable to mend wherever from 105 to 120 F135 power modules for every yr. That would be much more than double the 51 it taken care of in 2021, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey King claimed in a May possibly 26 interview. The air logistics advanced is a enormous facility at Tinker — the major of three depots in Air Force Materiel Command — that maintains a wide variety of plane and engines for the Air Pressure, such as the F135.

A shortage of functioning and available F135 engines has plagued the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter plan and progressively dragged down the jet’s mission-capable price.

The Authorities Accountability Workplace explained to Congress in April that, across the military’s fleet, F-35s were being unable to fly due to a absence of spare elements for about 17{09e594db938380acbda72fd0ffbcd1ef1c99380160786adb3aba3c50c4545157} of the time in fiscal 2020 and fiscal 2021. A lack of functional power modules — the engine’s core, which includes essential controls and parts that crank out the thrust to propel the aircraft — was the leading motive those people F-35s weren’t mission able, the watchdog agency explained.

Improving the ability of depots that carry out the heaviest upkeep on F135 engines is just one of the important means the navy is trying to tackle that worsening lack. By significantly, Tinker AFB’s Major Upkeep Center handles the most F135 upkeep operate. The military services is also striving to lessen the volume of vital do the job on engines, in component by extending how extensive they can remain on a jet prior to they have to have to get servicing.

“The reduction of circulation days from 244 down to … 106 [between the beginning of 2021 and today] was not by incident, and it was not by just lobbing off unwanted fat,” King advised Protection News. “It was a deliberate, meticulous software of [process improvements]. We altered up how we inspected sections when they were being taken out, we improved how we properly trained our staff. We redesigned shop floors and redesigned shop processes to eke just about every day out of the output system to go more quickly.”

The F-35 Joint Software Workplace in fall 2020 put in spot a strategy to repair the engine’s sustainment difficulties, focusing on increasing depot capability and keeping engines on aircraft for a longer time.

Tinker also improved the range of energy modules it maintains every calendar year, from 14 in 2020 to 51 in 2021. This 12 months, King stated, it is probable to convert all around a lot more than 70, beating its objective of 60. And upcoming yr he hopes the depot will be capable to finish about 90, paving the way for it to hit between 105 and 120 in 2024.

Jennifer Latka, vice president for the F135 software at Pratt & Whitney, which tends to make the engines, mentioned in a May well 18 interview that the military’s investment in depots obtained a gradual commence because the F-35′s engines done very well to begin with. But that intended when the engines started obtaining troubles, the depot capability wasn’t there to manage them, she claimed.

In excess of the final two yrs, she described, the navy and the corporation targeted on strengthening depots’ capacity to sustain additional engines. And this year, she included, all sites preserving F135s — which include Tinker, Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, Edwards Air Power Base in California and intercontinental web sites — are expected to beat their combined goal of 122 engines, significantly extra than the 76 all web sites taken care of very last yr.

‘Tricks of the trade’

In early 2021, Tinker personnel, the F-35 Joint Software Office environment and Pratt & Whitney commenced mapping out processes utilised to manage engines, explained Bobby Hager, director of the 544th Propulsion Upkeep Squadron at Tinker. At the exact same time, they kept an eye out for bottlenecks that led to excess operate, or in any other case hindered how speedy the centre could convert around engines.

Base staff found quite a few constraints, she mentioned, such as sluggish teaching for mechanics. They also recognized quite a few kinds of machines important to disassemble and reassemble engines weren’t accessible on the store flooring, Hager extra.

“We realized that, as we get further and deeper into the routine maintenance of this motor, there were being certain significant pieces of tooling that we possibly did not have offered or didn’t have experience with, just due to the fact we have never ever utilised it ahead of,” said Lam Dinh, the F135 propulsion flight commander in the 544th. “Some of all those [assembly] toolings have been new to us, as we had been studying how this engine goes with each other or comes apart.”

The lack of machines and of correct specialised training was felt most acutely during heavier get the job done, King reported.

The center is operating to get additional of the right kind of machines into mechanics’ fingers, Hager stated. But in the meantime, officials are reorganizing procedures so work is performed at distinctive situations, when some of that gear is obtainable.

King claimed Tinker mechanics have traveled to Pratt & Whitney web pages, which include in Middletown, Connecticut, where the engines are built, to “learn methods of the trade.” Those people visits served Tinker staff decide on up refined strategies that quicken and boost the assembly system, he included, and they are now cataloguing individuals lessons to share with a new F135 routine maintenance centre set to open up at Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida.

Latka explained the Jacksonville web page will tackle a comparable amount of engines to Tinker when it arrives on line in a couple of decades.

As Tinker personnel work on engines, they are also changing more mature turbine blades with refreshing blades that includes a new coating that superior resists degradation from salt and sand. This turned an challenge in the Middle East and during deployments at sea.

Latka reported about 35{09e594db938380acbda72fd0ffbcd1ef1c99380160786adb3aba3c50c4545157} of the F-35 fleet now has blades with the new coating, up from approximately 25{09e594db938380acbda72fd0ffbcd1ef1c99380160786adb3aba3c50c4545157} last Oct. The total fleet must have the clean coating by 2030, she included, if not sooner.

Faster responses, much more hires

Two yrs in the past, when Tinker needed Pratt & Whitney to obvious up an engineering or approach query, King mentioned it could choose up to two months to get an answer. Now, he claimed, the firm tends to remedy elaborate inquiries in two days, if not in minutes — if the proper engineer is on the store floor.

And that was another challenge entirely.

Tinker faced a problem when it initially started doing the job on F135 engines in 2015, Dinh defined: It experienced professional mechanics doing work on plane engines, but none on that unique mission, and nearly no outdoors gurus it could employ the service of.

And so the base turned its awareness to teaching its mechanics on the motor in as brief a time as possible by “micro-gating” — an solution that breaks down a system into various more compact responsibilities in order to better teach mechanics on each individual specific stage. This intended mechanics would frequently accomplish the ways until they could excel at them, Dinh stated.

Dinh reported this was greater than attempting to instruct mechanics “to soak anything in all at when, and at the stop of the working day, get absolutely nothing out of it.”

King agreed it was useful. “That depth introduced about proficiency, which introduced about speed and excellent.”

Tinker has also substantially elevated the number of mechanics doing the job on F135s — and has options to carry in far more.

Dinh stated that when he started off operating on the software all around the commencing of 2017, there had been about 17 other mechanics doing work on F135s there. As of about a 12 months and a 50 percent in the past, that workforce had developed to 79 around a solitary shift.

With 103 mechanics now focused on the F135, Tinker extra a restricted 2nd change and expanded the number of electric power modules it could operate on simultaneously from nine to 21. All but three of people mechanics are civilians, which presents far more continuity because they don’t get transferred every couple years, King claimed.

Tinker programs to employ several dozen more mechanics more than the subsequent number of many years so the foundation can perform on 30 electricity modules at at the time, King added. Funding, gear and applications are also on the way to let the foundation to handle those more engines, he mentioned — primarily doubling the sizing of the present-day shop.

King mentioned ideas are underneath consideration to extend Tinker’s capacity to retain 40 engines at once, nevertheless that hard work hasn’t acquired funding.

And in 2024, Tinker expects to start out conducting preventative motor maintenance scheduled in progress at entire scale, with about a handful of scheduled engine removals prepared for 2023. At present, only unscheduled motor removals — that is, repairs that must be done when complications occur — are done on F135s, King famous.

But above all, King defined, Tinker will retain searching for methods to bring down the charge of preserving F-35 engines. Pratt and Whitney reported it’s observed techniques to lower the cost of the F135′s very first scheduled servicing pay a visit to by about 40{09e594db938380acbda72fd0ffbcd1ef1c99380160786adb3aba3c50c4545157}, which it explained would help save far more than $14 billion above the life of the program. All those charge-conserving methods contain extending the life of areas until eventually their following routine maintenance cycles and acquiring new ways to maintenance engine elements that stay away from changing sections with new spares.

“Now that we have long gone from a pediatric to an adolescent motor, price tag manage is extremely important, primarily as we field extra F-35s and place more F135 engines into the area,” King reported. “We’ve got to go a lot quicker, the top quality needs to remain higher. But we’ve acquired to do it cheaper.”

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense Information. He earlier reported for Armed, masking the Pentagon, unique functions and air warfare. Before that, he lined U.S. Air Force leadership, staff and operations for Air Force Instances.