HILL AIR FORCE BASE — When it comes to the F-35, the cachet associated with the U.S. military’s “next-generation” fighter is usually reserved for the pilots putting it into the sky.
But according to Air Force folks in the know, the recently retired Col. Michael Miles was a sensation of the platform from the ground.
Last month, Miles retired from his post as commander of Hill Air Force Base’s 388th Maintenance Group — the outfit charged with keeping the Air Force’s first (and only, for now) fully combat-ready F-35 wing flying. Hill’s 388th Fighter Wing, which the MG falls under, owns and operates 78 F-35s. According to the 388th Public Affairs office, the wing’s three squadrons — the 4th, 34th and 421st —each have 24 jets, with another six back-up aircraft stored at the base.
A 26-year service veteran, Miles’ most crucial work for the Air Force arguably came during his last decade of service.
Miles was an Air Force Fellow with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and also worked in a variety of operational assignments across the world, including special operations tactics and nuclear deterrence operations. But Miles’ friend and former counterpart, retired F-35 pilot Col. Michael Ebner, said the former maintenance commander really set himself apart beginning in 2010. The pair was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and Miles commanded the 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
Ebner said Miles worked tirelessly with the Department of Defense’s F-35 Joint Program office to allow the Air Force to take over maintenance of the then-developing fighter jet from manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
“At that time, (the F-35 office) was a very conservative organization that really didn’t want the Air Force to break or touch anything,” Ebner said. “So they were like, ‘You know what, we’ll just have Lockheed Martin maintain all the aircraft.’ To (Miles), that just didn’t make sense. All the pilots were Air Force pilots, why not all the maintainers? For his two years there in command, he was always leading the charge to make an organic maintenance unit — the Air Force can actually do it. Just give us the technical orders, we’ll even figure out the training. We know how to maintain aircraft ... so a lot what we have today started at Eglin with that push.”
While at Hill, as the Air Force’s first F-35 maintenance commander, Miles improved maintenance practices, supply processes, technical orders and the F-35’s internal information technology infrastructure, known as the Autonomic Logistics Information System, according to Ebner.
Miles reflects fondly on his impact in the F-35 program, but he said what he’ll remember most from his time in the Air Force are the people he worked with along the way.
“Ultimately, on the ground, when you are generating air power to do a mission that is for the national defense, there is nothing better than that from a motivational standpoint,” Miles said. “When I saw our airmen produce airplanes and do those missions, it told me we are the best Air Force in the world and we are going to win any war we have to.”
As one of the pilots who took the F-35 into the air and relied on the 388th Maintenance Group’s work to do it safely, Ebner said he was more than glad to have to have Miles at the helm.
“There was never any doubt, from the operators’ side, that those aircraft would be ready,” Ebner said. “(He’s) leaving the Air Force, but he’s leaving as an Air Force legend.”