Wrenches, Ratchets and ALIS

From the B-2 to the F-35, Jim Helfst has advanced maintenance practices to keep aircraft flying

Jim Helfst routinely travels from coast to coast to support flight testing for the F-35 Lightning II. His job is far from routine though. As the flight test lead for the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), Helfst works with the military services to integrate ALIS with F-35 maintenance procedures.

With 27 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, Helfst turned wrenches on a number of aircraft while working his way to chief master sergeant and the maintenance superintendent for the 393rd B-2 Bomb Squadron. He draws on that experience to advance F-35 maintenance with ALIS.

“Validation at flight test sites is the last step before the newest release of ALIS is delivered to the warfighter, and my job is to make sure the military services get the most user-friendly, effective tool to manage their fleets,” says Helfst. “ALIS changes how aircraft are maintained, and so it is a challenging and rewarding assignment.”

The F-35 is the first tactical aircraft system to have sustainment tools designed in concert with the aircraft for efficiency and cost effectiveness. As the operations management backbone, ALIS integrates preventative maintenance, fleet management and the mission planning system.

“The biggest difference with ALIS is that many sources of data are combined into one application and decisions can be made in minutes,” says Helfst. “Legacy platforms have typically used several information systems.”

The benefit, says Helfst, is that maintainers and military leaders have a higher fidelity of information about their aircraft, which helps the services reduce operating costs and increase aircraft availability.

For instance, the Electronic Equipment Logs within ALIS track the maintenance history of each part, says Helfst. This data can be analyzed to pinpoint trends and better determine the life expectancy of parts.

“Maintainers have a prominent role on the F-35,” says Helfst. “Because they are providing maintenance details in ALIS as they service the jets, maintainers are the eyes and ears for aircraft reliability.”

Helfst and his team now have new software to validate. The next evolution of ALIS was delivered to Edwards Air Force Base and Naval Air Station Patuxent River in early September. This software introduces high-speed flight data downloads for increased aircraft availability. It also provides each nation flying the F-35 with advanced reporting features for fleet management and trend analysis.

After the U.S. Air Force and Navy validate the new ALIS software, it will be installed at all F-35 locations and support military operations with the U.S. Marine Corps beginning in 2015.

“F-35 maintainers across the board are extremely dedicated and driven to create a legacy of excellence,” says Helfst. “That’s what motivates the Lockheed Martin team to deliver the most effective fleet management system with ALIS.”