The Air Force is trying to save 2 severely damaged F-35s by merging them into a single 'Franken-bird' aircraft

  • The Air Force said it's embarking on a "Franken-bird" project to salvage two damaged F-35s.

  • The plan is to match parts from the two fighters to create one fully operational F-35.

  • The project is a first in the F-35 program, with experts from Lockheed Martin called in to assist.

The US Air Force on Thursday said its engineers in Utah are trying to restore two damaged F-35s by rebuilding them into one fully operational stealth fighter.

While military engineers have attempted similar restorations with other aircraft, the project to create what maintenance experts called the "Franken-bird" is the first among F-35s, the Air Force said in a statement.

To assemble the Franken-bird — an F-35A Lightning II — the Air Force said it's put together a "dream team" of experts from Lockheed Martin, the F-35 Joint Program Office, the 388th Fighter Wing, and the Ogden Air Logistics Complex.

One of the jets they're working on saw its landing gear collapse in June 2020, while the other F-35 suffered an engine fire in 2014.

The aircraft that caught fire is estimated to have sustained $50 million worth of damage, with the rear two-thirds of its body burned, per an Air Force report at the time.

Now, the Air Force said it's trying to replace the damaged nose of the F-35 that was damaged in 2020 with parts from the jet that caught fire.

"All of the aircraft sections can be de-mated and re-mated theoretically, but it's just never been done before," said Scott Taylor, Lockheed Martin lead mechanical engineer, in the statement. "This is the first F-35 'Franken-bird' to date. This is history."

Engineers move parts of the F-35 using specially designed fixtures and tools.
Engineers move parts of the F-35 using specially designed fixtures and tools.US Air Force

Taylor said the Franken-bird team has been documenting the project meticulously, hoping their work can develop standard repair procedures for other F-35s in the future.

The team is working out of Hill Air Force Base near Salt Lake City, where engineers had to design and build "entirely new, unique specialized" equipment, tools, and fixtures to perform the repairs away from the F-35 plant in Texas, the Air Force said.

All of this can fit into a Conex cargo container so it can be transported and used for other purposes in the future, Taylor said.

The project is estimated to take around five years to complete, even with the team now being months ahead of schedule. It was conceptualized in January 2020, according to Taylor, and is set to be finished in March 2025, according to the Air Force.

A single F-35A costs around $70 million to manufacture, according to Lockheed Martin.

The name Franken-bird is also a reference to the Franken-tiger fighters that the US Navy bought in the late 2000s. Northrop Grumman engineers created the Franken-tiger by replacing the nose of an F-5E built for Switzerland with the nose of an F-5F.

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