Losses and Aviation Safety

Meet the F-35 “Franken-bird,” the Lightning II made from two mishap damaged F-35As

The making of the F-35 ‘Franken-bird’

F-35 maintenance experts at Hill Air Force Base (AFB) are taking on a seemingly impossible task – stitching two mishap damaged aircraft together into a restored, fully operational F-35A Lightning II.

Led by the F-35 Joint Program Office, the project requires a “dream team” of uniquely qualified individuals from the JPO, the 388th Fighter Wing, the Ogden Air Logistics Complex and Lockheed Martin.

“This is a first for the F-35 program and a very exciting project,” said Dan Santos, F-35 JPO heavy maintenance manager, in the article Restoring an F-35A Lightning II: A collaborative endeavor by Todd Cromar, 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs.

After researching the feasibility, the F-35 JPO, working with the 388th Fighter Wing, opted to reconstruct AF-211, an aircraft that encountered a nose landing-gear separation in June 2020.

A new Mobil Maintenance System supports the donated nose section from a salvaged F-35 airframe used as an Aircraft Battle Damage Repair trainer at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in October 2023.

The nose section of this aircraft is being replaced with the undamaged nose from AF-27, an F-35 that experienced a severe engine fire at Eglin AFB, Florida, in 2014, and is now serving as an Air Force Air Battle Damage and Repair trainer at Hill.

New opportunities to repurpose useable parts from damaged F-35 aircraft

Over the past several years, the F-35 JPO has sought out new opportunities to repurpose useable parts and systems from damaged F-35 aircraft, for continued use and benefit to F-35 maintenance and operations.

Building on experience gained from several recent salvage aircraft re-purpose projects – including the stand-up of the first F-35 maintainer training facility using salvaged aircraft sections, as well as the partial restoration of a salvaged F-35 airframe for use as an ABDR trainer – the F-35 JPO is now taking the effort a step further.

The F-35 JPO leveraged this newly established network of skilled professionals, resources, and facilities, all of which are located at Hill AFB, to undertake the “Franken-bird” project.

A damaged nose section is removed from an F-35 airframe using a new Mobil Maintenance System at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in October 2023.

The Ogden Air Logistics Complex has played a significant role by providing hangar space and heavy equipment for the project, Santos said.

“It takes a team to make these types of endeavors successful,” said Santos. “I am very impressed with the collaborative efforts from the various agencies across Hill AFB, working together to make this happen.

Multiple units providing direct support

Along with Lockheed Martin, the F-35 Joint Program Office, and the 388th Fighter Wing, several units in the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, including the 570th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 576th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 809th Maintenance Support Squadron, and 309th Expeditionary Depot Maintenance Flight, are among the multiple units providing direct support.

Keith White, 388th FW contracting officer, said while the jet is owned by 388th FW, it’s still part of an F-35 JPO contract, and Lockheed is the contractor responsible for the work.

Personnel at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, reposition a salvaged nose section from an F-35 airframe using a new Mobil Maintenance System in October 2023. The MMS was created to de-mate and re-mate aircraft sections during a total reconstruction project of a wrecked F-35A Lightning II by the F-35 Joint Program Office. The project aims to restore the aircraft to full operational flying status.

“Work began on the feasibility of this project in January 2020, when the F-35 JPO reached out to us because we had already accomplished the really big damage restoration projects for the F-22,” said Scott Taylor, Lockheed Martin lead mechanical engineer.

However, unlike previous projects, Taylor said this initiative stands out due to its meticulous documentation, which will be used to establish standardized F-35 procedures that can be seamlessly integrated into routine operations in the future.

The first F-35 ‘Franken-bird’

“All of the aircraft sections can be de-mated and re-mated theoretically, but it’s just never been done before,” Taylor said. “This is the first F-35 ‘Franken-bird’ to date. This is history.”

To complete the work on site at Hill, entirely new, unique specialized tooling, fixtures, and equipment have been designed and built, specifically adapted for mobility. These have potential future uses abroad.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35A Lightning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014

“We’ve designed versatile tooling that fits neatly into a Conex box, making it transportable to various locations, including forward operation areas,” Taylor said.

These new mobile fixtures achieve the same results as large, stationary automated manufacturing jigs at the F-35 plant in Fort Worth, Texas, but with a new approach. The additional capability will benefit the entire F-35 program.

This project is currently several months ahead of schedule and showing a completion date of March 2025.

The F-35A Lightning II

The F-35A is the US Air Force’s latest fifth-generation fighter. It will replace the U.S. Air Force’s aging fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt II’s, which have been the primary fighter aircraft for more than 20 years, and bring with it an enhanced capability to survive in the advanced threat environment in which it was designed to operate. With its aerodynamic performance and advanced integrated avionics, the F-35A will provide next-generation stealth, enhanced situational awareness, and reduced vulnerability for the United States and allied nations.

This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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