USAF Trying to Make ‘Franken-Bird’ Jet From Two Damaged F-35s

F-35 maintenance experts are undertaking the “seemingly impossible task” of “stitching together” two severely damaged F-35A Lightning II fighters into a single, operational aircraft.

Dubbed the “Franken-bird project,” a team of F-35 experts from Lockheed Martin, the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, and the 388th Fighter Wing is taking on this yet-untried task.

“This is a first for the F-35 program and a very exciting project,” F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) heavy maintenance manager Dan Santos said.

Combining Two F-35As

A damaged nose section is removed from an F-35 airframe using a new Mobil Maintenance System at Hill Air Force Base
A damaged nose section is removed from an F-35 airframe using a new Mobil Maintenance System at Hill Air Force Base. Photo: US Air Force

After a feasibility study, the F-35 JPO decided to reconstruct the AF-211 aircraft, which experienced a nose landing-gear separation in June 2020.

The damaged nose section will be replaced with the undamaged nose section from the AF-27 aircraft, which suffered a severe engine fire in 2014.

The JPO has reused workable parts from damaged F-35s in maintenance and operations for the past several years, but it said nothing on this scale has been attempted before.

Furthermore, unlike previous projects, Lockheed Martin’s lead mechanical engineer Scott Taylor said this initiative is unique because of its “meticulous documentation,” which will form the basis of future F-35 maintenance procedures.

“All of the aircraft sections can be de-mated and re-mated theoretically, but it’s just never been done before,” he said. “This is the first F-35 ‘Franken-bird’ to date. This is history.”

To execute the project, completely new, specialized tooling, fixtures, and equipment have been developed with potential future use.

Moving Forward

The project is being executed at the Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill AFB.

“It takes a team to make these types of endeavors successful,” Santos said. “I am very impressed with the collaborative efforts from the various agencies across Hill AFB, working together to make this happen.”

The project is several months ahead of schedule, with a projected completion in March 2025, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center said.

Pieces of two F-35 Lightning IIs being “stitched together” into one aircraft. Photo courtesy US Air Force

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