LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. – The 56th Fighter Wing and 56th Maintenance Group are accelerating change through the Lightning Technician Program. The program’s goal is to reassign all maintenance tasks for the F-35 Lightning II aircraft to the Aircraft Maintenance Units by creating two new consolidated career fields: air vehicle mechanic and mission systems technician.
With over 730 maintainers integrated into the program, Luke’s LTP is one of the largest multi-capable Airmen training programs in the Air Force. The program, originally the Lightning Integrated Technician program, started in 2017. From there it grew due to the combined efforts of Luke and Hill AFB, Utah.
Evolving from the original idea that one maintainer should know every maintenance task related to the F-35A Lightning II, the LTP employs teams of eight maintainers: five air vehicle mechanics and three mission systems technicians.
“[Traditionally], not everybody’s housed within one unit, so you have to rely on outside agencies to come in and care for specific tasks,” said Master Sgt. Derek Coldiron, 56th Maintenance Group F-35 integrated maintenance superintendent. “By consolidating career fields, bringing everyone into one unit, you significantly reduce aircraft downtime.”
With LTP, maintainers share a collective knowledge base and work together to reduce time spent on any given task.
“Initial data pools showed about a 20% decrease in turnaround times,” he continued, “and eliminated the wait time for someone to be dispatched from another unit.”
The 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit has lead the way with the LTP and is now helping integrate the program in other AMUs at Luke and other F-35A bases. The program has expanded to include Airmen who have recently completed F-35 technical training at Luke AFB.
“It’s just been able to give me a broader opportunity at learning new career fields, being able to apply myself and become a larger asset,” said Senior Airman Nathan Lakey, 62nd AMU dedicated crew chief, who was fully trained in LTP for his current position. “If anybody needs to be trained on any of the AFSCs I’m qualified in, I can go ahead and show them, whether it’s a low observable repair, shooting wires, and changing a tire or ejection seats.”
Coldiron described how LTP originated from LIT, thanks to Col. Gregory Hutson, their previous maintenance group commander.
“It was originally an initiative program,” he said. “[Hutson] established the initial pilot programs to see how we could maximize our manpower and efficiency across the board. It grew out of Luke as well as Hill AFB; they did about a yearlong experimentation phase and testing period, which transitioned into the LTP we know today.”
Coldiron said he predicts that this collaborative effort will lead to efficiencies that will be realized across the Air Force and they will significantly enhance Air Force flying operations.
“The biggest thing for LTP, and why it makes sense, is the F-35 is unlike anything we’ve seen before,” said Coldiron. “System reliability plays a huge factor in how we do business and where we head in the future.”
This program will also be beneficial when implemented during future deployments and beyond.
“The way we operate in our area of responsibility, or AOR, is going to change over time,” said Coldiron. “The traditional aspect of deploying an entire unit downrange will likely go by the wayside one day. The LTP construct supports joint domain and big-picture thinking, so if I divided my team into smaller teams, we can work together more efficiently, deploy and be more agile in how we operate.”
LTP shows promise as an innovative program that has the potential to change how all maintainers operate, he added.
“It’s a maintenance friendly platform that sets us up to adapt and modify how we operate to be able to support the needs of the warfighters,” said Coldiron. “As we modernize our fleet, we must modernize how we train and execute the mission.”