A US Air Force official visited Tinker Air Force Base to check on the current status of the F-35 Lightning engine program in late July.

According to a press release, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall personally flew to the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex (OC-ALC) to receive an update on F-135 engine maintenance and modernization.

Kendall also had the chance to take a tour of the engine repair facility, where he was able to observe all of the current repair procedures in action as well as the numerous process enhancements the 76th Propulsion Maintenance Group had put in place to cut production time from 244 days in 2021 to an average of 105 days right now. The crew is also working to develop more innovative yet effective methods for manufacturing the next generation of F-35 engines.

“The efforts by the men and women of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex to repair F135 engine modules faster and more efficiently is beginning to address the gap between where F-35 sustainment currently is and where it needs to be,” Kendall said. “These professionals and their innovative approaches will help us meet the demands of our nation’s security.”

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall was arriving at Tinker AFB. (Image source: US Air Force)

The cutting-edge technology of the F-35 didn’t go unnoticed by other countries. It has so far delivered units to eight countries—the US, United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Denmark, and Canada. In addition, the armed forces of Israel, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Belgium, and Singapore are also planning to procure their own Lightning II combat jet units. As a result, the OC-ALC took prompt steps to increase its capacity to handle large numbers of F135 engines and potential maintenance and repairs.

The Mighty Heart of the Lightning II, the F-135 engine

America’s most prominent aerospace engine manufacturing company, Pratt and Whitney, is the brain behind the dependable, high-performing engine and maintenance of the F-35’s newest generation.

The F-135 is “an evolution from the proven F119 engine,” responsible for another advanced fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor. Pushing through the boundaries of modering engineering, the F-135 features a combat propulsion system that was purposely customized with “a low bypass augmented turbofan engine” to boost the capabilities of the Lightning II jets to over 40,000 lbs (191 kN) of thrust.

Pratt & Whitney manufactures’ the engine of the new generation F-35A engine. (Screenshot from Fluctus/YouTube)

The production line of the F-35 engine alone is already among the most mind-blowing processes in today’s engineering, which combines automated work instructions, precise machining, laser, ultrasonic inspection, mechanical drilling, and laser projection rolled together. While most of the parts are made separately in Canada and Poland, the final assembly of the F-35 engines takes place in Middletown, Connecticut.

Inside the complex, US F-35 Engine is assembled in a vertical system. (Screenshot from Fluctus/YouTube)

To ensure the reliability of the engine, the team working behind the program uses a method called accelerated mission testing, in which the engine goes through a rapid aging process by causing it to accumulate several years of running time within a short period to allow engineers to identify and correct potential problems that might be encountered in regular operation.

A Long Way To Go

Despite being hailed as the world’s most dominant multi-role fighter, the F-35 Lightning II still has a handful of rough edges that need to be addressed ASAP. Recently, one of the advanced units of the sophisticated fighter jet has been grounded because of its ejection seat issues. A week before this, “a report also transpired regarding its faulty mechanism.”

The faculty seat was first reported in April during a routine maintenance inspection, later “addressed and fixed” by the primary manufacturer, Lockheed Martin. However, when the US Air Combat Command stepped in and swept the aircraft, they again found the same problem with the seat ejection system.

Nevertheless, since its emergence in the 2000s, the F-35 has crossed several milestone thresholds, claiming its reign in the skies as the most lethal and cost-effective fighter within the NATO alliance.

Its general characteristics include an overall length of 15.7 m, a wingspan of 10.7 m, and a height of 4.38 m. Moreover, it has a max speed of up to Mach 1.6 (over 1,200 mph) and can reach a range of more than 1,3500 miles with internal fuel (1,200+ NMI)—unlimited aerial refueling—and a ceiling of above 50,000 feet. Its notable features include detection range, geolocation, threat identification, and system response capabilities, allowing the jet to precisely fix and destroy the most advanced threats in the world, including every layer of Russia’s latest SA-20 surface-to-air missile system.

Check out the video below for a quick recap of the sophisticated F-35 fighter jet.