MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC --
Picture a car from 1986, and hold on to that image for a second. What do you see? Is it shiny, hardly used, and well cared for? Or is it a well-loved but beat up automobile with many miles on it and ready to be retired? Keep picturing that car.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122, or the Werewolves, started flying F/A-18 Hornets in January, 1986.
With those Hornets, VMFA-122 deployed to Europe and throughout the United States into the early 2000s. They have gone east in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and west to the Pacific with the Unit Deployment Program. The squadron’s aircraft have flown many flight hours collectively and individually throughout the years.
Like cars, aircraft have check-ups and tune-ups, regular maintenance and unscheduled maintenance.
“[The F-18] is a pretty old aircraft,” said Gunnery Sgt. Lamont Belvin, quality assurance chief for VMFA-122. “But we’re able to fly them so much because of all the inspections, conditional or scheduled maintenance we do.”
Marines inspect the aircraft piece by piece for cracks, corrosion, and other damage that can cause further harm to the aircraft. A higher level inspection is conducted as part of a program called the service life extension program, which helps ensure the jets are used for as long as safely possible.
This inspection is conducted at 8,000 hours, said Sgt. Ronald Ramos, squadron analyst for VMFA-122. Depending on the results of the inspection, a jet may be retired or have its maximum flight hours extended past 8,000 flight hours.
“What we’re seeing right now is that the jet has aged significantly over the years,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Justice Haggard, maintenance material control officer for VMFA-122. “What it means is there’s so many things that are starting to show the wear and tear of the years on the aircraft, it’s actually calling for depot level maintenance, which is maintenance two levels above what we can perform here.
“A lot of times with aircraft this old, we can’t get the parts. Sometimes the company doesn’t make them anymore because they’re so rare. So we’re limited on parts now. On a scale of a brand new car rolling off the lot to a car going to the junkyard… It’s going to get us from point A to point B, but we’re looking for a new car,” said Haggard.
The new aircraft the Department of Defense has focused on is the F-35 Lightning II or Joint Strike Fighter.
“[The F-35s] would be equivalent to buying a new car when you’ve got this antique. After so many repairs, you’re looking forward to that new model where you don’t have to perform constant maintenance,” said Haggard.
Stretching, squeezing, twisting, bending, shearing forces associated with any aircraft have slowly worn away at the F-18s, just as the constant maintenance required to counteract those forces on the aging aircraft are beginning to wear down on Marines. The Marine Corps is ready for a ‘new car.’
For more information on the F-35, visit http://www.jsf.mil/