HomeNewsArticle Display

Astral Knight 2019: Maintainers sharpen F-35A

Senior Airman Chase Gilmour, 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, prepares an F-35A Lightning II fighter jet for refueling during Astral Knight 2019 on June 5, 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The F-35A brings an enhanced capability to survive in an advance threat environment in which it was designed to operate. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos)

Senior Airman Chase Gilmour, 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, prepares an F-35A Lightning II fighter jet for refueling during Astral Knight 2019 on June 5, 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The F-35A brings an enhanced capability to survive in an advance threat environment in which it was designed to operate. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos)

Senior Airman Chase Gilmour, 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, refuels an F-35A Lightning II fighter jet during Astral Knight 2019 on June 5, 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The U.S. Air Force has deployed one squadron of F-35A Lightning II fighter jets, Airmen, and associated equipment to Aviano Air Base, Italy, from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings, at Hill AFB, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos)

Senior Airman Chase Gilmour, 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, refuels an F-35A Lightning II fighter jet during Astral Knight 2019 on June 5, 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The U.S. Air Force has deployed one squadron of F-35A Lightning II fighter jets, Airmen, and associated equipment to Aviano Air Base, Italy, from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings, at Hill AFB, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos)

Senior Airman Chase Gilmour, 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, prepares an F-35A Lightning II fighter jet for refueling during Astral Knight 2019 on June 5, 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The F-35s are participating in Astral Knight 2019, a multinational exercise that enhances relationships with allies and improves overall coordination with partner militaries during times of crisis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos)

Senior Airman Chase Gilmour, 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, prepares an F-35A Lightning II fighter jet for refueling during Astral Knight 2019 on June 5, 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The F-35s are participating in Astral Knight 2019, a multinational exercise that enhances relationships with allies and improves overall coordination with partner militaries during times of crisis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos)

Senior Airman Shawn Pham, 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, inspects an F-35A Lightning II fighter jet during Astral Knight 2019 on June 5, 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The F-35A is the U.S. Air Force’s latest fifth-generation fighter that complements the air superiority of other fourth and fifth-generation aircrafts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos)

Senior Airman Shawn Pham, 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, inspects an F-35A Lightning II fighter jet during Astral Knight 2019 on June 5, 2019, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The F-35A is the U.S. Air Force’s latest fifth-generation fighter that complements the air superiority of other fourth and fifth-generation aircrafts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --

Deployed maintainers of the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit prepare F-35A Lightning II fighter jets to contribute to exercise Astral Knight 2019 on the flightline of Aviano Air Base, Italy.

Astral Knight 2019, a joint-multinational exercise led by U.S. Air Forces in Europe, aims to demonstrate the defense capabilities of the U.S. integrated air and missile defense system.

“This is the first overseas location that the 421st AMU’s F-35As has gone to,” said Master Sgt. John Ott, 421st AMU F-35A expediter. “Our duties include daily servicing and inspections, as well as logistics and coordination control to receive support on our aircraft and maintainers 24/7.”

The exercise provides maintainers with a complex mission to practice and master their craft. Through teamwork, experiences are passed down from legacy maintainers to newer maintainers to fully visualize a robust program. 

“Our entire team is comprised of experts from F-16 Fighting Falcons, C-135 Stratolifters, C-130J Super Hercules, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and all types of legacy aircraft,” said Ott. “We get to have all their inputs from their vast experiences and channel that into a focal point to sharpen our F-35A mission systems.”

With a cohesive team, maintainers are able to forecast future maintenance issues that may arise and prepare a deployable spare package to prevent maintenance obstacles from halting the mission. 

“A lot of the aspects that we see in a maintenance perspective is making sure we have the right parts in our deployable spare package,” said Capt. Kimberly Jackson, 421st AMU officer in charge. “The deployable spare package is tailored to the type of aircraft that we bring. Maintainers use data on how many times certain items fail to predict what replacements will be needed to complete the mission.”

The exercise has proven to the maintenance team how far they can stretch the constraints of their program and see how far they can take the F-35A aircraft.

“My maintainers exceed my expectations every day,” said Jackson. “My team is capable of deploying to other countries and accomplishing the mission. We want to keep our momentum so we can maintain our performance for further exercises.”