A report shows that pieces of two severely damaged F-35A Joint Strike Fighters involved in separate incidents many years ago are being fused together to form a single, fully functional plane. The goal of building this plane, which has gotten the moniker “Franken-bird,” is to showcase new techniques and tools that will allow the United States military to fix or recycle F-35s that have taken a beating in the future.
The Franken-bird is reportedly being put together at Hill Air Force Base in Utah’s Ogden Air Logistics Complex (OALC). The F-35 Joint Project Office (JPO) leads the project, which is collaborating with several organizations within the OALC, the 388th Fighter Wing, which is based on Hill, and Lockheed Martin, the maker of the Joint Strike Fighter.
The Air Force announcement lists the donated airframes as AF-211 and AF-27. Serial numbers 17-5269 and 10-5015 identify these aircraft.
In 2014, an engine catastrophe at Eglin Air Force Base damaged the back two-thirds of AF-27. The pilot survived the flaming F-35A. The Pentagon canceled the F-35’s 2014 Farnborough Airshow presentation in England after the mishap grounded the aircraft.
Air Force investigators estimated aircraft damage at around $50 million. After refurbishment, AF-27 became an Air Battle Damage and Repair (ABDR) training for Hill maintainers.
The AF-211 lost the nose landing gear at Hill following an ordinary training sortie in June 2020. The Air Force stated that the pilot escaped and received a medical evaluation. No further details were given. The extent of the damage to the aircraft is uncertain, although the current investigation indicates it was significant.
The Franken-bird is being constructed using the rear two-thirds of the airframe of AF-211 and the nose section of AF-27, which was spared in the 2014 fire.
A report shows that the repair of modern military aircraft may be a complex ordeal. Additional dangers are posed by stealthy designs such as the F-35. The assembly and fabrication of even the tiniest parts, like fasteners, must be exact for stealth aircraft.
The maintenance manager claims that if this were to happen, the warfighter would again have access to a valuable asset in battle, and subsequent planes could be fixed using the same tried-and-true methods.