Tyndall Air Power Base Will Be An F-35 Maintainer’s Dream … Ultimately

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla.—Three new hangars underneath development at Tyndall Air Power Base, Fla. may make sustaining the F-35 extra environment friendly than ever, with built-in upkeep services, a walkable campus, enhanced wi-fi connectivity, and different facilities.

“It is a dream for any maintainer,” mentioned Col. Robert Kongaika, commander of the 325th Upkeep Group that may oversee repairs for the 78 F-35s to be assigned to Tyndall’s 325th Fighter Wing.

The bottom as a complete is present process a $5 billion reconstruction effort after the devastation of Hurricane Michael in 2018. Officers wish to make Tyndall the Air Power’s ‘Set up of the Future,’ the mannequin of what the service may appear like in years to come back—full with services that may stand up to probably the most excessive climate and new applied sciences to make upkeep and base safety quicker and higher.

However the largest single funding goes towards Tyndall’s transition from coaching F-22 college students to flying operational F-35s. The three hangars being constructed, one for every future squadron, are a part of what leaders are calling ‘Zone One,’ an space dedicated to flightline actions.

The zone features a upkeep complicated, group headquarters, plane parking aprons, plane assist tools storage, a corrosion management facility, and an F-35A flight simulator constructing. It’s the single largest army development contract on report within the Air Power database, which dates again to 2008, in keeping with an Air Power launch. The development contract is $532 million, however contingencies and contract oversight brings the whole funding to $604 million.

A scale mannequin of the F-35A hangars underneath development at Tyndall Air Power Base, Fla. The roof was eliminated to point out the doorways at both finish of the hangar, permitting plane to maneuver out and in extra simply. Air & Area Forces Journal picture by David Roza

Subsequent Era Hangars

Officers say that top-dollar worth will carry top-of-the-line high quality; every hangar will function residence for each maintainers and pilots for every of the three F-35 squadrons, which ought to permit for straightforward cross-pollination, Kongaika mentioned. Hangar doorways at both finish of the services will let jets circulation out and in extra simply, he mentioned.

Upkeep calls for ample electrical energy to energy the plane; air for inflating tires or environmental management programs; and water for spraying down the jets. In older hangars, maintainers would herald noisy aerospace floor tools that guzzled gasoline and generated exhaust, however at Tyndall these utilities will come straight out of the constructing itself. Kongaika labored with an analogous set-up at Luke Air Power Base, Ariz., one other F-35 location, the place utilities rose up from the hangar ground on hydraulics.

“That’s state-of-the-art, in my view, since you’re lowering your thrash: the wasted time it takes to herald different tools and take it out,” he mentioned.

Air con and high-speed wi-fi web can be built-in reasonably than bolted on, as is the case in another services. Dependable Wi-Fi is more and more essential to attach tablets and different units maintainers depend on to repair F-35s. Kongaika envisioned future wrench-turners utilizing augmented reality-equipped headsets or glasses to additional streamline the upkeep course of.  

Col. Robert Kongaika, head of the 325th Upkeep Group at Tyndall Air Power Base, Fla., shows a mock-up of Zone 1, the place the 325th Fighter Wing’s hangars, headquarters, flight simulators, and different services can be constructed. The three an identical buildings close to the highest symbolize a hangar for every of the wing’s F-35 squadrons. Air & Area Forces Journal picture by David Roza

Present Challenges

Whereas Kongaika and different Air Power leaders envision a high-tech future for maintainers, there’s an apparent problem—the hangars won’t be accomplished till 2026, however F-35s with the ninety fifth Fighter Squadron have already begun arriving. The primary 4 landed at Tyndall in early August, with 12 extra scheduled by the top of summer time 2024. For now, maintainers with the ninety fifth Fighter Era Squadron work out of a refurbished workplace house, however the jets stay exterior with out the good thing about sunshades.

“We’ve obtained ice machines, we’ve obtained Gatorade to try to make that as tolerable as potential, however they are going to be straight up on the open ramp within the Florida solar,” mentioned Maj. Benjamin Flores, commander of the ninety fifth FGS. “That can be one thing we’ll need to preserve a concentrate on and attempt to make it as straightforward as potential for them.”

One other problem is the dimensions of the rebuilding effort, the place as much as 4,000 development staff rub elbows with operational Airmen. The tight quarters require cautious coordination between the 325th Fighter Wing, the Air Power’s Pure Catastrophe Restoration Division, the U.S. Military Corps of Engineers, and the contractors the corps manages. 

“We spend plenty of time making an attempt to stay up for determine the place these conflicts may happen and mitigate them earlier than they turn into a problem,” mentioned Col. Robert Bartlow Jr., chief of the Air Power Civil Engineer Middle Pure Catastrophe Restoration Division. “However issues occur on a regular basis the place we notice we’ve obtained an issue and we have to deal with it.”

For instance, one of many tenant items at Tyndall is the 601st Air and Area Operations Middle, which plans, directs, and assesses air and house operations over North America, a significant mission that can not be interrupted. However over the subsequent few months, Tyndall is renovating all of the utilities throughout the bottom, which would require shutting down the roads resulting in the 601st Air Operations Middle (AOC).

“Proper now we’re determining alternate technique of entry to the AOC and we’ll give you one, get it accredited and we’ll press ahead,” Bartlow mentioned. “That’s one factor that luckily we recognized effectively sufficient prematurely.”

Development staff assemble concrete kinds on Zone 1 at Tyndall Air Power Base, Florida, June 9, 2023. (U.S. Air Power picture by Airman 1st Class Zachary Nordheim)

Kongaika expressed concern for his Airmen’s security amid the congestion and development. 

“We have now to have a extremely heightened sense of situational consciousness round us, so I’m all the time preaching security,” he mentioned. “I wish to empower our Airmen to knock it off or sluggish it down each time they see issues which might be the three Ds: dumb, harmful, or completely different.”

Maintainers with the ninety fifth FGS are adapting to the circumstances. Their major depot for instruments and spare elements is a couple of mile away and throughout a safety checkpoint from their non permanent facility, which may disrupt workflow, so that they arrange a smaller warehouse in a facet room of their present constructing, lowering the variety of back-and-forth journeys.

Sustaining a fighter squadron requires 1000’s of spare elements and tools reminiscent of rolling instrument bins, torque wrenches, screw drivers, pliers, engine covers, security gear, latex gloves, and extra. Col. George Watkins, the commander of the 325th Fighter Wing, likened it to “standing up a super-sized AutoZone.”

However a profitable fighter era squadron additionally requires the correct tradition to maintain mission-ready plane day-after-day, even in troublesome climate. Whereas discovering skilled F-35 maintainers is just not as troublesome right this moment because it was just a few years in the past when the jet was brand-new, it can take time for the ninety fifth FGS to learn to work as a group.

“We have now not labored as a group to generate plane; we’ve all finished it individually at completely different locations,” Flores mentioned. “We have now to ensure now we have the communication in place and the expectations set so we make the correct name and observe the correct processes. We’ll be taught however I believe that’s simply a part of the rising course of for a brand new group.”

Kongaika pointed to the arrival of the primary F-35s as essential to constructing that teamwork.

“There’s nothing that replaces hands-on coaching, so we want some plane in an effort to practice,” he mentioned.

Barring additional manufacturing delays, the ninety fifth Fighter Squadron ought to attain full operational functionality with 24 main assigned plane and two extra in reserve by the center of 2025. The variety of ninety fifth FGS maintainers may also develop from about 50 folks on the bottom right this moment to an end-strength of 200. Changing into operational will take sweat and coordination, however the brand new plane, the brand new hangars, and the prospect to construct a brand new unit from the bottom up has its rewards too.

“Seeing our personal plane in entrance of the squadron with the Tyndall tail flash on it … it’s only a good feeling, and I believe that’s what everybody is worked up about,” mentioned Flores.