Restoring U.S. Air Force's F-35A by Fusing Two Damaged Lightning II Jets

Historic Collaboration at Hill Air Force Base: F-35 Maintenance Experts Unveil "Franken-bird" Project
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  • 05:08 AM, December 8, 2023
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Restoring U.S. Air Force's F-35A by Fusing Two Damaged Lightning II Jets
F-35A Lightning II restoration @U.S.A.F.

Maintenance experts at Hill Air Force Base are embarking on an unprecedented mission – stitching together two mishap-damaged F-35 Lightning II aircraft to create a fully operational and restored fighter jet.

Led by the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), this project, dubbed the "Franken-bird," involves a collaborative effort comprising experts from the JPO, the 388th Fighter Wing, the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, and Lockheed Martin.

According to Dan Santos, F-35 JPO heavy maintenance manager, "This is a first for the F-35 program and a very exciting project." The chosen aircraft for reconstruction is AF-211, which experienced a nose landing-gear separation in June 2020. The damaged nose section of AF-211 is being replaced with the undamaged nose from AF-27, an F-35 that suffered a severe engine fire in 2014 and is currently serving as an Air Force Air Battle Damage and Repair trainer at Hill AFB.

The F-35 JPO has been actively seeking opportunities to repurpose usable parts and systems from damaged F-35 aircraft in recent years. The "Franken-bird" project, which leverages a newly established network of skilled professionals, resources, and facilities at Hill AFB, marks a significant advancement in these salvage and repurpose efforts.

Restoring U.S. Air Force's F-35A by Fusing Two Damaged Lightning II Jets
F-35B that crashed during a vertical landing at an air base in North Texas in December 2022 @via media reports (Representative image)

The Ogden Air Logistics Complex has played a crucial role by providing hangar space and heavy equipment for the project. "It takes a team to make these types of endeavors successful," Santos emphasized, praising the collaborative efforts from various agencies across Hill AFB.

Several units within the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, including the 570th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 576th AMS, 809th Maintenance Support Squadron, and 309th Expeditionary Depot Maintenance Flight, are actively contributing to the project, along with Lockheed Martin and the 388th FW.

Scott Taylor, Lockheed Martin lead mechanical engineer, highlighted the meticulous documentation of the project, setting the stage for standardized F-35 procedures in the future. "This is the first F-35 'Franken-bird' to date. This is history," Taylor remarked.

To facilitate on-site work at Hill AFB, entirely new specialized tooling, fixtures, and equipment have been designed and built. These innovations, specifically adapted for mobility, have potential future applications abroad.

Restoring U.S. Air Force's F-35A by Fusing Two Damaged Lightning II Jets
F-35 damaged in a crash @via media reports (Representative image)

"We've designed versatile tooling that fits neatly into a conex box, making it transportable to various locations, including forward operation areas," explained Taylor. The project, currently several months ahead of schedule, is set to be completed by March 2025.

Dave Myers, F-35 JPO Lightning Support Team lead engineer, emphasized the significance of the project for the future. "Not only will this project return a combat asset back to the warfighter, but it opens the door for repairing future mishap aircraft using tooling, equipment, techniques, and knowledge that has been developed," Santos added.

The "Franken-bird" project represents a historic milestone for the F-35 program, showcasing the resilience and innovation of maintenance experts at Hill Air Force Base.

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