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  • 2017
VMFA 121: An Institution of High Efficiency in Maintenance

By 2nd Lt. Gregory Cronen, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- A correlation between high usage of aircraft and maintenance to sustain their efforts exists. The longer or more frequent an aircraft is flown, the more amount of time it takes to be maintained post-flight. Occasionally flights are cancelled at Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course to allow maintainers time to catch up.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121’s F-35Bs have not had that issue thanks to the work of their excellent maintenance team.


U.S Marines from VMFA-121 in Iwakuni, Japan have sent a detachment of personnel, aircraft, maintenance assets and support equipment to aid in the support of WTI 1-18. 


WTI is a seven week long course hosted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One in Yuma, AZ that provides standardized tactical training for pilots and air crew across the Marine Corps. The traditional WTI support model consists of aircraft, maintainers, tools and support equipment from all four Marine Air Wings to form a composite squadron. VMFA-121 is currently using a support model that relies solely on themselves, MALS-13, and industry.


The F-35B has continuously been fit to fly in the long hours that WTI demands. The MAWTS-1 Aircraft Maintenance Officer Major Tommy Fuss says: “They’re definitely above fleet average. I’d say, anecdotally, that fleet average is 40-50%, but they [VMFA 121’s maintainers] have been able to constantly have 5 out of 6 up and ready.” Maj. Fuss has been the AMO for MAWTS-1 for three iterations. 


The maintenance Marines from VMFA-121 were challenged with accepting six F-35Bs for participation in WTI, and upgrading their server to compliment the supporting hardware. Their diligent work made the aircraft fully operational to participate in WTI after only three and a half weeks. 


“The maintainers are the backbone of 121” said 1st Lt Robert Golde, Maintenance Material Control Officer for VMFA-121’s detachment in Yuma. “We [AMOs] manage the priorities to meet the flight schedule but the maintenance Marines are the one’s pulling 12-14 hour days to get all aircraft ready for the next flight.”


The proper numbers and the proper communication methods seem to be their winning combination that can justify their results. VMFA-121 could not send their usual detachment to WTI because of their needs back in Iwakuni. 


Yet Staff Sergeant Jason Boswell, Maintenance Controller at VMFA-121, explains: “We only took the manpower we needed.” He explains the success by stating: “It’s easier to keep everyone informed and on the same page.”


But how is this small group of maintainers able to work so effectively, having some of the highest readiness ratings at WTI?


“One of our big things is not to leave any secrets. Don’t say ‘just go fix this aircraft’, we like to include the big picture so everyone knows what’s going on and what’s being effected” Boswell says. 


Giving maintainers a larger context for a pilot’s needs and a mission’s scheme of maneuver allowed the small group of maintenance Marines at VMFA-121 detached in Yuma to set the standard in excellence within the Marine aviation support community.


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