New F-35 canopy cover design to help prevent damage

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Christian Corley
  • 33rd Fighter Wing

Eglin's 33rd Maintenance Group maintainers have been innovating the F-35A Lightning II over the span of two years.

Tech. Sgt Andrew McCamish, 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit aircraft section chief, and Staff Sgt. Tyler Schmitt, 33rd MXG quality assurance inspector, have been developing a new canopy cover and reusable wash covers for the aircraft.

“There is currently no cover to protect from damages,” said McCamish. “We got with AFWERX who was working on portable magnetic aircraft covers (PMACs) for the F-22 raptor. They were curious if there was a need for a canopy cover that could protect it from environmental and maintenance damages. The cover is being tested with 70 mph gusting winds, and it’s performing flawlessly. This reduces the foreign object hazard while still protecting the canopy’s coating.”

Having a formidable canopy cover can also save maintainers time, which in turn, helps to create sorties for the pilots in training. 

“Not only do these covers provide better protection, they also keep you from damaging the panel which forces you to need low-observables-intrusive maintenance,” said Schmitt. “Being able to provide a lightweight, reusable and storable option for a canopy cover, not only at home, but on TDY, cuts down on prep time. It’s maintenance-friendly and water-resistant.”

McCamish and Schmitt then discussed other tasks that could be made easier with a new cover.

“Each aircraft is on a 30-day wash cycle, yet we’ve never had a wash cover; we’ve been using barrier paper, so we’re constantly burning through a lot of consumables,” said McCamish. “When I ran the numbers for both AMUs, we’re spending $15,000 - $20,000 annually on barrier paper, and a majority of that is for taping up the aircraft for washes. So, Schmitt came up with the idea of a reusable wash cover system using the PMAC technology.”

A new wash cover system would help to expedite the wash process by itself. 

“You usually have two to three people wash-prepping a jet and taking it to the wash rack, which takes around an hour,” said McCamish. “With the reusable covers that we’re designing, that turns into 10 minutes, which saves you hours. You could realistically wash two aircraft in one shift without really pressing.”

Along with reducing wash times, the covers would also save money on consumable resources. 

“You would no longer have to pay for barrier paper annually and would no longer need half of the materials required to wash an aircraft in less than half of the time,” said Schmitt. In places like here, where we’re possibly looking to have three training squadrons flying out of one base with 30-day wash increments, it’s super vital to save as many resources and man-hours as possible, when performing tasks that could potentially take up to eight hours.”

The test looked to assure the fit, seal and magnets of the covers.

“In terms of fitment and water sealing, everything seems to be doing very well,” said Schmitt. “Everything has been shaped almost to perfection, with very minor adjustments needed to the design and the magnets.”

The team has precise parameters that the covers need to meet to be approved for use. 

“All of this is being tested at Lockheed Martin’s standards,” said McCamish. “We’re not just 3D printing magnets, throwing them into covers and saying it works. We are doing the research into how deep the magnets need to go, looking into program magnet technology and it’s being sent off to third party evaluators to perform at standards that Lockheed and JPO buy off on.”

Projects of this magnitude cannot be accomplished without help. 

“We’ve had support from Mr. Brian Milligan, from JPO, which allows us to display these products with someone directly in the program office,” said Schmitt. “This means that he can go forward as a spokesperson to further amplify the importance of these covers, systems and designs in order to hopefully push these into the Joint Strike Force supply system as orderable items and something that the program will provide for all units.”

Schmitt and McCamish hope to get their products approved across all F-35 variants and branches.

“Being able to provide these sister-units with these covers will allow them to save a lot of time when forward deployed,” said Schmitt. “You’d see a lot of these wash covers in the marine and naval units which are starting to experience deep levels of corrosion damage. These cost less than half of what the aluminum ones do, so they’d save a bunch of money on the back end.”

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