How Air Force maintainers maker sure the F-35 stays a 'stealthy beast'
- The F-35A Lightning II boasts a "low observable" technology that makes it difficult for enemies to detect and track the fifth-generation fighter jet.
- But that technology is subject to wear and tear like any other component, and it takes airmen with special skills to keep it working.
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HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah - How do you make a 51-foot-long, 35-foot-wide fighter jet, with an engine that generates 43,000 pounds of thrust, vanish?You don't. There's no black magic that exists to make something that big disappear.
The real term used to describe the cloak is "low observable" technology, and it takes skilled airmen to maintain."You can't hit a target if you can't get to it. And you can't get to a target if you get shot down," said Master Sgt. Francis Annett, 388th Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight NCOIC. "Because of the LO technology, the F-35A can fly missions most other aircraft cannot. We make sure our airmen understand how important their job is. We teach the 'why' as much as the 'how.'"
Several things combine to provide the F-35A's stealth — the lines and contours of the aircraft's exterior design, the composite panels and parts that make up the body, and the radar absorbent materiel that coats the entire jet.
During flight, the exterior paint or coating of any aircraft can get worn down from friction caused by weather, dust, bugs, and the normal movement of flight surfaces.Advertisement
The fabrication flight team inspects and evaluates the jets' coatings, seams and panels after each flight, looking for anything that could lead to an increased radar signature, recording any damage and prioritizing repairs across the wing's fleet.
Maintaining this radar absorbent coating on surface of the F-35 is a job that takes very detail-oriented, sometimes tedious work — masking every small area, properly mixing chemicals, applying them precisely, smoothing, and assessing the smallest imperfections. It's time consuming, but it's vital to get it right, Annett said.Advertisement
"I like that its detail oriented," said Staff Sgt. Brandon Ladson, a low observable journeyman. "All the work that you put in really shows. Any mistake you make, every good thing you do, it all shows in the final product."
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