Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska -- On any given day at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, you can hear the sound of freedom as F-22 Raptors circle the mountains and come in for landing. There was a different tone to that sound Jan. 9, as the Marine F-35B Lightning II joined the orchestration.
“There aren’t a lot of firsts in the world; they happen once and that’s it and it’s always amazing when you see it first-hand,” said Col. Christopher Ogren, 477th Fighter Group commander.
JBER got the rare opportunity to be part of one of those historic moments last week when the crew from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 stopped by with their F-35Bs while transitioning from Yuma, Arizona, to Japan.
“This operation is good for the F-35 and its crew to experience the harsh environment of Alaska,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Andre Villanueve, F-35B maintenance control member. “Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is a great base, the Air Force took care of our crew and our aircraft.”
“This is a first for an operational F-35 squadron in Alaska,” said U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Cassidy Cleinmark who works as an F-35 Avionics Maintenance Control Marine. “This is an unprecedented movement for the F-35 operational unit.”
The F-35 is the newest aircraft to enter the world of fighter jets, but, fifth-generation fighters aren’t new to JBER. The last time was the F-22 Raptor in August, 2007, when the base became the first Pacific Air Forces installation to receive the aircraft, which joined the 3rd Wing and Air Force Reserve Command’s 477th Fighter Group.
Master Sgt. Mark Ling, who works as an F-22 expeditor for the 90th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, was one of the first 477th FG aircraft crew chiefs to work on the F-22 Raptor.
"In 2007, the F-22 Raptor was the aircraft maintainer’s top choice to learn and work on,” he said. “It was a new jet that we all knew would change the fighter world forever. Even ten years later, it's still an exciting state-of-the-art aircraft to work with.”
Fast forward to now, JBER can add the F-35B's transition pit-stop as another series of aviation firsts.
“As a Plane Captain, I make sure the aircraft is safe for flight, including the fuel systems, propulsion, preflight inspection and aircraft marshalling,” said Marine Cpl. Alexander Noonan a Powerline Marine, similar to our Air Force crew chief mechanic. “I like the F-35; it is relatively easy to work on, with good contractor support. The capabilities of the F-35 are impressive, it combine’s legacy aircraft into one.”
While most crew chiefs in the military, work on legacy aircraft that have accomplished many missions, those working on the new fighters have a different perspective.
Cleinmark, who has eight-years of experience with Marine avionics and maintenance control said he enjoys working with the F-35B, getting to see a snippet of where the future of aviation is going.
“The F-35 is ten-fold better to work with," said Cleinmark. "Maintenance is less in-depth than legacy aircraft and more innovative than any aircraft I’ve been assigned to.”