Col. Mark Fluker to step down as F-35 maintenance chief

Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 11:50 AM.

He said some of the younger guys were given a high level of responsibility that they might not have gotten in other air force jobs because they were working with such a new aircraft.

They are charged with maintaining a $150 million jet, the world’s most expensive fighter. That comes with the need to report to high-ranking officials on maintenance issues and all the challenges they face, Fluker said.

“I’ve got a 19 year-old standing tall and briefing and telling a general all about the airplane,” Fluker said. “Every time I see it, it just makes me proud.”

The maintainers are the often unsung heroes of the fighter jet. No pilot could take to the sky without them, Fluker said.

Every flight requires eight to nine maintainers to work about five-and-a-half hours to prepare an F-35 for takeoff. That’s if nothing goes wrong.

Using several complicated computer systems, they check for discrepancies and make sure every system is working properly. They walk around the airplane to look for aberrations and leaks, check gauges and tire pressure, and replace parts or refill fluids.

Then the plane is service ready, but not yet set for takeoff. Another round of checks is conducted with the pilot in the cockpit. As a final precaution, they roll the plane forward to check the underside of the tires.

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