SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – "If there is one question you ought to leave here remembering, it's this, how can I do this job better?" – Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, commander of Air Education and Training command.
Complacency has done in many great nations and peoples in the past. That is why the Air Force strives for excellence, which is not to just become proficient in a field, but to excel like no other before.
To continually pursue to be great could be seen as hubris or greed, but here at Sheppard AFB, the pursuit of creating better and more efficient Airmen is nothing more than securing a brighter future for all Americans.
"So, part of the contract with Lockheed Martin (manufacturers of the F-35 Lightning II) were for them to also provide the training,” said Master Sgt. Nathan Black, F-35 training manager for the 372nd Training Squadron and its field training detachments. “They were only contracted, though, with providing us with transition training, meaning all the members the Air Force had to pull off of other airframes – C-130s, F-16s – transferred them over to be F-35 maintainers.”
Black said that for a time, the Air Force had the mindset of "this is what we get, so we will have to deal with it," but the transition training left out some more-advanced tasks the newly transitioned Airmen were not qualified to do, which led the Air Force to have to contract Lockheed Martin maintainers to fix. The focus then switched to how they could train Airmen to increase proficiency to remove the time lost to get a third party to fix the new plane.
“The initial idea came up in January (2018), but the first working groups began in March,” Black said. “We talked with the career field managers, Air Force leadership, and we presented to them what our fix could be for that demand of improved training in the field.”
The fix was gather three working groups, one for crew chiefs, one for avionics and one for weapons, all with the intent of finding out what they needed to learn to become more efficient with the F-35.
“We were basically just guiding, ironing out the requirements, asking them what are we missing and putting it into a condensed format?” Black said. “But, they’re the subject matter experts though. They are the ones that have worked on these aircraft and teach it, so who better to have than them to put together what this class should be.”
Black said once the requirements were set by headquarters Air Force and Air Combat Command, the teams got to work creating seven new courses.
Four crew chiefs courses included engine removal and install, the integrated power plant removal and install, the advanced crew chief course, and the pack and unpack of the F-135 engine module course.
Three avionics courses included advanced avionics, advanced F-35 electrical and environmental systems, and electronic warfare, communications and navigations instruments.
Black stated that although they had a weapons working group, they were able to get Lockheed to update their weapons course they provided to meet the Air Force’s needs.
The seven new courses will be implemented near the end of the F-35 maintainer’s training.
“So, the fundamental course is here.” Black said. “It’s just crew chief, avionics and weapons fundamentals. When they leave here, they go to Eglin for the F-35 specific training, which is where they use all of Lockheed Martin’s training aids and support. Then from there, they see us at our mission-ready program at either Luke or back at Eglin and that is when we finalize three level training. And then after the MRA is where the new advanced courses come in for their five and seven level.”
Without the advanced courses, the training would have ended there and that could have been it as there were some complications during the creation of these new courses.
“As of now, I have gotten it to where these transition courses that we have are now Air Force courses,” Black said. “So Lockheed Martin has made those specifically for us now, because before the problem was that any time we need anything adjusted or changed with the training, even though we’re the prime stakeholders in the JOP, Lockheed Martin still has to get approval from everyone else. And typically their response is no.”
Black said getting the courses to be completely Air Force-centric has been a big help to completing the package, as the Air Force is a 60 percent shareholder for the whole F-35 program, sharing the budget costs with the Navy, Marine Corps, and eight foreign partners. He said that before, asking for changes would lead to Lockheed Martin having to ask the rest of the partners and then consolidating for everyone. That process usually ends with opposition, so Black and Patrick Hastwell, F-35, F-22 and A-10 curriculum manager, opted for an Air Force-specific program which smoothed out the process.
Creating a separate package now allows these courses to start circulating early next year.
“With it being the end of the year, we’re targeting the beginning of next year,” Black said. “For the validation process, we teach each course a minimum of three times and we consolidate the feedback. Then we see if we need to make any changes, corrections or adjustments.”
Once all the classes complete the validation process, these course will be a staple in the F-35 course and help the Air Force create more advanced maintainers.