HILL AIR FORCE BASE – The 531st Commodities Maintenance Squadron officially opened their new 24,000 square-foot F-35 canopy shop in building 850 on May 17, allowing for future forecast needs by tripling the former workspace.
The shop meticulously refurbishes to perfection, canopies for the Air Force’s F-35A conventional takeoff and landing stealth fighter, along with the Navy’s F-35B and Marine F-35C short takeoff and vertical landing models.
Previously housed since 2017 in building 271, the military’s only F-35 maintenance and overhaul canopy shop has produced 28 canopies in the first 8 months of the fiscal year. Now the new shop is in full production, they project completing 23 more this summer.
With 18 skilled technicians and plenty of room to expand, Melinda Hunt, 531st CMMXS F-35 Canopy Production Supervisor said she expects her shop to increase.
“We have the capacity to grow to 264 canopies per year and meet the increasing future customer forecast,” We plan to hire more people later this year.”
Canopies in the field that are discovered to have damage and imperfections are sent to the shop and go through a five-gate process that takes 31 days to complete, all with precision and pains-taking care.
The five steps include teardown, build-up, test, final finish and then crate and ship.
Hunt said her technicians receive hands-on training from Lockheed Martin, the F-35 manufacturer, where they are trained to do the job, including sheet metal, laser and low observable work, and then their true skill shines through.
“The F-35 canopy is artesian work with very intricate measurements and tight tolerances,” she said. “The technicians in the shop are second to none. They all have high expectations of each other and work to perfection with zero quality deficiencies since shop inception.”
One of the interesting steps in producing a quality product is by using what they call a mapper. It helps compensate for optically distorted views through thick, curved canopy material.
“Every manufactured canopy optically distorts the view of the outside world in different distinct ways,” Hunt said. “Ariel and ground targets are viewed through a heads-up display and are distorted by the canopy thickness, curves, and material itself, affecting the weapon’s accuracy. We use the mapper to compensate for these optical deviations and communicate it to the weapon system.”
Hunt said it’s fantastic to have the new facility with the finest equipment but producing a flawless product for the warfighter all boils down to the people working there.
“I love watching the work in the shop flow and seeing the team build such a high-quality end-item is very rewarding,” she said. “Their total dedication to the warfighter and their ability to work as a team is much like family. I could go on and on about how great the shop and the technicians are and how much pride they take in their work. They’re truly an amazing group of individuals who deliver an exceptional product.”