The new U.S. stealth jet, F-35B Lightning II, completed a new milestone during its third and final developmental test phase (DT-III) aboard USS America (LHA 6) by completing the first power module and engine swap at sea in the ship’s hangar bay.
Mark Schroeder, the maintenance and logistics department head for the F-35 Pax (Patuxent) River Integrated Test Force (ITF), said the initial at-sea power module and engine swap went well and he attributes this success to embarked Marines assigned to Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1, who developed the new engine removal and replacement (R&R) process.
“Any time [the Navy or Marine Corps] acquire new aircraft, they are concurrently going to acquire the training resources that it takes to operate and maintain the jet,” he said. “Marine maintainers who come to work on the F-35B have typically transferred out of an AV-8B Harrier or F/A-18 Hornet squadron as those aircraft wind down and migrate out of the fleet.”
The Marines who comprise the VMX-1 maintenance team have been learning and testing F-35B maintenance procedures for approximately two years. During the engine swap on America, the team spent a week on the initial swap, making sure to account and track for each step of the process by entering each maintenance step into the Autonomic Logistic Information System (ALIS) — a system which gives the F-35 team the ability to plan ahead, maintain, and sustain aircraft subsystems over the life of the aircraft.
“Testing the ability to swap entire engines or engine components at sea is vital, as this is the last opportunity for the Marine Corps to perform these shipboard maintenance actions in a sterile test environment before they deploy with the F-35B in 2018,” said Lt. Col. Richard Rusnok, VMX-1 F-35B det. officer-in-charge.