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Agile BOLT maintenance team supports F-35A deployment

Staff Sgt. Keagan Rosario, 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit BOLT mission systems technician, performs preflight checks on an F-35A Lightning II fighter jet May 31, 2019, at Aviano Air Base. The F-35A is an agile, versatile, high-performance, 9G capable multirole fighter that combines stealth, sensor fusion and unprecedented situational awareness. Airmen from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, are in Europe as part of a Theater Security Package. Currently they are participating in Astral Knight 2019, a joint and multinational exercise that involves airmen, soldiers and sailors from the United States and airmen from Croatia, Italy, and Slovenia. The exercise is an integrated air and missile defense exercise focused on conducting integrated defense of key terrain. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos)

Staff Sgt. Keagan Rosario, 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit BOLT mission systems technician, performs preflight checks on an F-35A Lightning II fighter jet May 31, 2019, at Aviano Air Base. The F-35A is an agile, versatile, high-performance, 9G capable multirole fighter that combines stealth, sensor fusion and unprecedented situational awareness. Airmen from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, are in Europe as part of a Theater Security Package. Currently they are participating in Astral Knight 2019, a joint and multinational exercise that involves airmen, soldiers and sailors from the United States, and airmen from Croatia, Italy, and Slovenia. The exercise is an integrated air and missile defense exercise focused on defending key terrain. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos)

Tech. Sgt. Jesse Mitchell is the first F-35A maintainer in the 388th Fighter Wing to be certified in six different areas of F-35A maintenance. He's part of the Blended Operational Lightning Technician program and currently deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy with the 421st Fighter Squadron supporting the F-35A in the multi-national defense exercise, Astral Knight 2019.

Tech. Sgt. Jesse Mitchell is the first F-35A maintainer in the 388th Fighter Wing to be certified in six different areas of F-35A maintenance. He is part of the Blended Operational Lightning Technician program and currently deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, with the 421st Fighter Squadron, supporting the F-35A in the multi-national defense exercise, Astral Knight 2019. The BOLT program is pushing to streamline F-35A sustainment by providing smaller maintenance teams for agile movements. (U.S. Air Force photo by Micah Garbarino)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy – Maintainers in an innovative 388th Maintenance Group program have taken two huge steps while developing a program that continues to push and streamline F-35A Lightning II sustainment.

These “BOLT” maintainers are currently deployed alongside the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit and the 421st Fighter Squadron during a Theater Security Package to Europe, and they’ve sent the first 388th Fighter Wing maintainer to ever be qualified in six different aspects of F-35 maintenance.

The Blended Operational Lightning Technician program combines maintenance-specific Air Force Specialty Codes, essentially job descriptions, into two career tracks. Maintainers in the Air Vehicle track are crew chiefs, fuels and low observable technicians. Airmen in the Mission Systems track focus on avionics, weapons, and egress.

This training allows a single Airmen to perform multiple inspections and do the associated work required in areas they are qualified in. They don’t have to wait for qualified Airmen from other specialties to complete inspections or any required fixes on the aircraft.

“The BOLT airmen that are here with us offer widespread benefit. They will allow us to deploy the same aircraft with a smaller number of Airmen than we would at home station,” said 388th Maintenance Group commander, Col. Michael Miles. “This is a new way to train our airmen to be more operationally focused, and that ties directly to the primary mission sets of the F-35A.”

The goal of the BOLT program is less down time, more productivity and a smaller maintenance footprint required for each jet. Reducing the size of the maintenance force allows commanders more combat flexibility for quickly deploying a small number of aircraft to a remote airfield with fewer airmen.

Succeeding in the program is challenging and can seem overwhelming because many Airmen want to be experts at everything as soon as they enter. But, the ones who catch on are better equipped in their careers because this type of maintenance is “inevitable” in the future, said BOLT lead, Master Sgt. Dantorrie Herring.

Tech. Sgt. Jesse Mitchell, currently deployed with the 421st FS in support of the multi-national exercise Astral Knight 2019, is the first maintainer to be qualified in all six functions. He is able to sign-off on fixes to any area that may be keeping a jet from flying. He's been a BOLT maintainer since January 2018.

“I love BOLT,” said Mitchell, a native of Wichita, Kansas. “I think it’s a personality thing. I don’t stagnate. It was a challenge learning all these different areas, but I studied. I got a lot of hands-on training from the experts in each area and it’s paid off.”

Mitchell, a former F-16 maintainer, entered the F-35 world as a crew chief, then learned avionics – basically all the “fun systems the pilots get to play with” – and just kept going until he had completed all the others: fuels, low-observable maintenance, weapons and egress. Now, he is able to clear a “red x” in any of those six systems and return a jet to flying status. It’s a rare achievement.

Currently, there are nearly 60 Airmen in the 388th Fighter Wing BOLT program.

“This is just a starting point for our BOLT maintainers,” Miles said. “We’ll be doing other things with them (throughout our time in Europe) and we’ll take the lessons learned and weave them into our planning for the next time we’re tasked.”