HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah, --
Before a bomb is loaded or dropped, or an aircraft takes off, or an engine starts, or a pilot climbs into a seat, combat air power starts away from the flight line.
The Airmen of the 388th Maintenance Squadron’s Aerospace Ground Equipment Flight are tasked with providing, maintaining and repairing all the equipment needed to launch the F-35A Lightning II, America’s most advanced fighter jet.
“Without the work of the AGE Airmen, you can’t generate combat sorties,” said Senior Master Sgt. Arnold Munroe, AGE Flight chief.
For this unit, that means taking care of more than 600 pieces of equipment worth about $3 billion for three different aircraft maintenance units, ensuring it’s where it needs to be to support the mission of the crew chiefs, avionics, weapons and ammo troops.
Fifth generation technology on the F-35A requires more specialized equipment than legacy aircraft. Every system on the F-35A has an associated piece of equipment that the AGE Flight is required to provide to keep aircraft loaded, fueled and flying. There are more than a dozen critical pieces of heavy equipment, from the standard – power generators and weapons loaders, to the unique – 13,000 lb. air conditioners to cool the jet’s advanced avionics.
“Our Airmen are ‘jack-of-all-trades,’” Munroe said. “One day they could be working on a hoist for F-35A seats and canopies, and the next day they’re an HVAC expert working on a cooling system. They are required to be proficient in so many different things. It’s a very unique career field.”
The Airmen work just off the flight line in a long, low metal building separated into repair stations with a supply and production section. The 24/7 operation is a constant assembly-line style rotation of equipment coming off of the flight line or being delivered back to the flight line.
Three different teams within the flight support the F-35A maintainers 4th, 34th and 421st Aircraft Maintenance Units, drivers shuttling parts to the crew chiefs and expeditors on the flight line.
“My hobby is working on cars, working on engines,” said Airman James Calma, who joined the Air Force a little over a year ago from his home on Guam. “A lot of people give recruiters a bad rap, but mine was amazing. There aren’t too many opportunities like this at home. I love this job. I’m learning a lot about different types of engines and working more with diesel engines. It’s fun.”
Another new AGE member, Airman 1st Class Morgan McClurg, from Middletown, Ohio, joined the Air Force to travel and to get an education. She’s getting more than college can teach.
“I’m not afraid to change my oil or fix a flat tire anymore,” she laughed.
But, skills aren’t the only thing that she’s gained. She and her fellow Airmen also have a real sense of pride in the F-35A mission here.
“We watched a video yesterday of our deployed F-35As dropping bombs on targets and it really clicked for me. We are all the ones making that mission happen,” McClurg said.
The active-duty 388th FW and Air Force Reserve 419th FW are the Air Force’s only combat-capable F-35 units, working side-by-side, maintaining the jets in a Total Force partnership that utilizes the strengths of both components.