USAF training its F-35 pilots to carry out basic maintenance and refueling chores in austere environments

USAF training its F-35 pilots to carry out basic maintenance and refueling chores in austere environments

By Dario Leone
Apr 29 2024
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USAF training its F-35 pilots to carry out basic maintenance

Taken on Apr. 1, 2024 at Nellis Air Force Base, the photos in this post feature US Air Force (USAF) Maj. Zach Saunders, F-35 division commander assigned to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, performing refueling and post-flight checks on the tires of an F-35 Lightning II as part of independent pilot off-station procedures (IPOP).

USAF training its F-35 pilots to carry out basic maintenance and refueling chores in austere environments
U.S. Air Force Maj. Zach Saunders, F-35 division commander assigned to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, performs post-flight checks on the tires of an F-35 Lightning II as part of independent pilot off-station procedures (IPOP) at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, April 1, 2024. Participating in IPOP allows pilots the opportunity to learn maintenance and refueling techniques, extending operational range. 

Airmen completing IPOP for an F-35 Lightning II are also featured in the images.

USAF training its F-35 pilots to carry out basic maintenance and refueling chores in austere environments
U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Maintenance Operational Test (MxOT) division observe the arrival of F-35 Lightning IIs at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, April 1, 2024. The MxOT team is working towards a standardization of tactics, techniques and procedures development in a joint environment.

Participating in IPOP allows pilots the opportunity to learn maintenance and refueling techniques, extending operational range.

USAF training its F-35 pilots to carry out basic maintenance and refueling chores in austere environments
U.S. Air Force Capt. Matthew Brown, an F-35 assistant program manager assigned to the 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron, prepares an F-35 Lightning II to be refueled in support of independent pilot off-station procedures (IPOP) at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, April 1, 2024. IPOP aims to empower pilots with maintenance and refueling skills for prolonged flight missions and enhanced mission readiness.

The intent for IPOP Tactics Development and Evaluation is to equip Combat Air Forces with a tool that permits location agnostic off-station operations for the F-35 Lightning II to operate without the deployment of maintenance personnel.

Austere environments

USAF training its F-35 pilots to carry out basic maintenance and refueling chores in austere environments
U.S. Air Force Capt. Matthew Brown, an F-35 assistant program manager assigned to the 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron, prepares an F-35 Lightning II to be refueled in support of independent pilot off-station procedures (IPOP) at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, April 1, 2024. Participating in IPOP allows aircrew to independently inspect and deploy their aircraft.

According to Alert 5, the captions accompanying photos released by the US Air Force emphasize that IPOP training prioritizes safety and efficient resource utilization.

USAF training its F-35 pilots to carry out basic maintenance and refueling chores in austere environments
U.S. Air Force Capt. Matthew Brown, an F-35 assistant program manager assigned to the 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron, refuels an F-35 Lightning II as part of independent pilot off-station procedures (IPOP) at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, April 1, 2024. Exercises such as IPOP allow pilots the opportunity to learn maintenance and refueling techniques, extending operational range.

The exercises provide a controlled environment for pilots to develop basic maintenance skills while ensuring the safe operation of the F-35 in austere environments.

Great power competition

USAF training its F-35 pilots to carry out basic maintenance and refueling chores in austere environments
U.S. Air Force Maj. Zach Saunders, an F-35 division commander assigned to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, secures a warning tag on an F-35 Lightning II as part of independent pilot off-station procedures (IPOP) at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, April 1, 2024. IPOP is a safe and executable pilot exercise that increases the ability to operate off-station with limited resources.

Noteworthy, as already reported, being able to operate from small, rough airfields is a requirement, as the Defense Department shifts its focus to great power competition where major airfields could be at risk in a fight.

USAF training its F-35 pilots to carry out basic maintenance and refueling chores in austere environments
U.S. Air Force Airmen complete independent pilot off-station procedures (IPOP) for an F-35 Lightning II at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, April 1, 2024. The intent for IPOP Tactics Development and Evaluation is to equip Combat Air Forces with a tool that permits location agnostic off-station operations for the F-35 Lightning II to operate without the deployment of maintenance personnel. 

The USAF must evolve from its dependence on well-established airfields given China and Russia can increasingly hold overseas US bases at risk. In fact, even though the service can overcome some disadvantage with long-range bombers, a war in which missiles knock out American air bases and prevent the ability to launch and recover short-range fighter jets is unlikely to end well.

US Navy Operations Specialist explains why China is not yet able to build a stealth fighter jet comparable to the F-35
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

Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Brianna Vetro / U.S. Air Force

US Navy Operations Specialist explains why China is not yet able to build a stealth fighter jet comparable to the F-35
This model is available from AirModels! CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

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Dario Leone

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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