An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : Article View
NEWS | Nov. 20, 2020

Air National Guard F-35 LO shop established in Vermont

By Julie Shea 158th Fighter Wing

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. – As the first Air National Guard unit to base the F-35A Lightning II, the 158th Fighter Wing is familiar with making history and breaking records. Now, the wing claims another title: home of the first F-35 low observable (LO) shop in the Air National Guard.

In anticipation for the arrival of their first F-35s, a new Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) became available to the Vermont Air National Guard’s Green Mountain Boys: low observable aircraft structural maintenance (LOASM), traditionally reserved for only active-duty counterparts.

Now with their full complement of 20 F-35s, these cross-trained Airmen make up the first F-35 LO shop of its kind, run completely by Guardsmen.

“We are the first Air National Guard base with the F-35, so we are also the first LO shop for the F-35 in the Air National Guard,” said Tech. Sgt. Jason George, LOASM craftsman assigned to the 158th Maintenance Group (MXG), Vermont Air National Guard.

For the members of the maintenance group, this distinction speaks beyond the 158th FW’s conversion. Rather, they emphasize their own ground-up development and pride in the success of cross-training all of their members into LO from other AFSCs.

“It’s exciting because we took a four-person sheet metal shop and we turned it into an almost 40-person LO shop. We’ve more than quadrupled in size,” said Master Sgt. Douglas Lamay, LOASM work lead assigned to the 158th MXG.

“We are creating a program basically from the ground-up that no other Guard unit has done, and we are doing it with less manning than our active duty counterparts, and less funding, which is what we have always done in the Guard to complete our missions. It’s just another continuation of us finding ways to do more with less.”

As a LOASM work lead, Lamay is responsible for day-to-day maintenance, scheduling Airmen on jobs, appointments and other tasks. A former crew chief, Lamay reflected on the technical training required to successfully grow this new shop.

“It’s a new AFSC for a Guard unit. It has existed for the B-2s and the F-22s; they have all had LO. But as each new airframe comes out, the LO changes. … It’s just all new for us and trying to create it and learn all these different techniques and get spun up on it,” said Lamay.

Lamay said the F-35 is different than the F-16s the wing flew for more than 30 years due to its low observable features. This new component provides stealth capabilities and shrinks the visibility of the jets to “create survivability and enhance its lethality,” he said.

LO maintains the stealth coatings on the jet and performs repairs that ensure the integrity of the stealth coatings are as good as they can be, according to George. In other words, LO’s key purpose is to keep the F-35s in the air and off radar.

To learn how to achieve this stealth capability, in addition to other aspects of F-35 maintenance, the Airmen were required to go to technical school for 13 weeks in Pensacola, Florida. If already trained in aircraft structural maintenance, Airmen could instead train with a field training detachment. Out of the entire shop, none of these Airmen joined the U.S. Air Force for LO – it simply wasn’t an option before.

Green Mountain Boys who volunteered to join this career opportunity and cross-train into the new AFSC included electricians and crew chiefs and members from the engine shop, non-destructive inspections (NDI), sheet metal structural, services and security forces.

“We’ve collected a selection of almost every shop on base to come in and make this shop,” said Lamay. “It’s been pretty impressive. Like, we’re starting from scratch, so we’ve made our own flag. We’re creating the start of our heritage. We’re all in on the ground of it.”

In addition to attending required training, wing leadership sent Airmen to learn from active-duty counterparts at Luke, Hill, Nellis and Eglin Air Force bases to prepare for receiving their first two F-35s on Sept. 19, 2019.

“Leadership sent all of us out to all these F-35 bases, three or four years out from our first F-35s landing here, and we all come back with different experiences,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Bohan, LOASM craftsman assigned to the 158th MXG. “At Eglin, I did something different than the person who went to Hill [Air Force Base] or Luke Air Force Base. We all did stuff a little differently, and now we take all that information and choose what’s best for our unit. I believe we already started in the right direction.”

Master Sgt. Matthew Dykas, 158th MXG LO ASM section chief, said an added benefit of becoming the first to do anything is the ability to share that knowledge with those destined to come next. For the 158th MXG, this means connecting with the Wisconsin Air National Guard and Alabama Air National Guard, two units selected as the next to base the F-35s.

“We’ve already actually started talking to Wisconsin, and we’ve already been sharing some of the lessons we’ve learned just designing our building and where things end up,” said Lamay.

Considering the various locations where these Airmen have trained and all the future environments the F-35 will fly in, regional differences are being taken into account.

“LO on this jet here in Vermont, snowflakes are like throwing rocks at the jet. Think of getting sandblasted by snowflakes; it doesn’t hold up very well compared to Florida,” said Bohan, who went to Eglin AFB for three and a half years on active-duty orders to train in F-35 LOASM. “But Florida has its own challenges. Florida has rainstorms that are insane. The rain erodes the coatings off, so really in either one, you’re doing quite a bit of maintenance.”

When comparing Florida to Vermont, one thing stands out the most to Bohan: “Paint curing when it’s cold out. That’s one of the things we run into that’s a pain in the butt, so we either have to tow a jet inside to paint it or build some type of contraption to be able to heat that area of the jet.”

The 158th FW has its full complement of 20 jets and will be considered mission-ready at the end of its conversion timeline in 2021.

“Being a part of the Green Mountain Boys is a legacy. We always strive to be the best, and I personally think we are the best right now,” Bohan said.



Related Articles
U.S. Soldiers, U.S. Airmen, and a Department of Defense civilian ride in the back of a Chinook helicopter to observe training activities during the Maple Thunder exercise in Savannah, Georgia, Jan. 29, 2024.
Vermont Airmen Test Agility During Multistate Exercise
By Tech. Sgt. Richard Mekkri, | Feb. 8, 2024
SAVANNAH, Ga. - Nearly 260 members of the Vermont Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing and other Airmen and civilians from across the country participated in the ACE exercise Maple Thunder Jan. 22-Feb. 3.“ACE is short for...

An North Carolina Air National Guard F-15 Eagle takes off from Pease Air National Guard Base, New Hampshire, June 14, 2023. The crews trained for two weeks on surface attacks and in-flight refueling.
334th Fighter Squadron Trains in Northeast
By Tech. Sgt. Victoria Nelson, | June 21, 2023
PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. - The 334th Fighter Squadron partnered with Pease Air National Guard Base June 6-16 for total force training over New Hampshire and northern New York.The 334th Airmen, stationed at Seymour...

One of the first F-35A Lightning II aircraft assigned to the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 115th Fighter Wing arrives at Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wisconsin, Apr. 25, 2023. The 115th FW is the second ANG wing in the nation to receive the fifth-generation fighter.
Wisconsin Air National Guard Receives F-35s
By Staff Sgt. Cameron Lewis, | April 28, 2023
MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing received its first F-35 Lightning II aircraft April 25, making it only the second Air National Guard unit with the advanced fighter.The fifth-generation...