Success through Inter-Organizational Teamwork
Wednesday Jun 17, 2009
Success through Inter-Organizational Teamwork
Tenacious Efforts to Accomplish Another V-22 Milestone
Last October, Naval Air Systems Command’s V-22 office initiated a statement of work with Naval Surface Engineering Command (NAVSEA) to study flight deck heat buildup from the V-22’s exhaust on some of the Navy’s smaller amphibious ships. Concern about damage to ship flight decks from the Osprey’s engine exhaust, wasn’t new, it had been addressed and resolved on the large deck amphibious ships, perhaps generating a false sense of expectation.
However, by February, any anticipation those solutions would transfer to the smaller decks became a vanquished vision. NAVSEA said that preliminary analysis indicated the need to impose arduous restrictions on V-22 operations aboard the smaller ships.
This was, potentially, a major operational problem.
The Marine Corps always planned to operate off all the aircraft capable amphibious ready group ships, and the first MV-22 shipboard deployment was scheduled in a couple months. It was, simply, a time to get answers, and solutions, fast.
Initial concerns about prolonged heat from the Osprey’s engine exhaust arose in July 2004 when USS Iwo Jima crewmembers reported non-skid discoloration from elevated flight deck temperatures following MV-22 operations. The following summer, crewmembers on USS Bataan, another LHD, identified some short-term flight deck deflection after Osprey operations. Addressing those concerns, NAVAIR joined NAVSEA to conduct a joint testing effort aboard USS Wasp (LHD-1) to gain a greater understanding of the problem and develop a path forward.
Results from those early tests discovered that prolonged exposure to the MV-22’s exhaust could, depending upon certain variables such as ambient temperatures, number of cycles and duration, cause long-term fatigue damage to the flight decks. In order to counteract the heat buildup problem, Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) procedures were established to minimize heat exposure.
On LHA and LHD ships, NATOPS procedures dictate that MV-22s suspend one of its two nacelles over the water while sitting on deck with the engines turning. If an Osprey remains on deck with its engines operating for more than 10 minutes, the engine over the deck should be reduced towards idle, and if the crew expects to sit for more than 90 minutes the engine over the deck should be shut down. Typically, if a crew knows they will be on spot for more than 30 minutes they will shut down the over deck engine.
Aboard the smaller ships, the new concern hypothesized that heat buildup on the flight decks could cause negative impacts in a shorter time period due to thinner deck plates and internal structure architecture; possibly causing long-term structural damage below decks. No one knew for sure, but the theoretical analysis needed data. Normally, the certification process takes time with data collection and analysis, a limited commodity this time.
Initial meetings between the Commanders and affected Program Managers at both organizations led to the establishment of a joint Deck Heating Working Group to tackle the problem. NAVAIR’s V-22 Ship Suitability Engineer, Bill Geyer, headed the Test Integration Team, while NAVSEA’s Aviation Integration Officer, Cmdr. Dave Spencer, oversaw the Mitigation Committee. Lt. Col. Gregg “Skinman” Skinner, V-22’s Class Desk Officer, was the co-project lead between both commands.
Dispatched to Norfolk two different times, Skinner coordinated efforts between Navy and Marine commands, and worked with Geyer and engineers from NAVAIR and NAVSEA to gather data aboard the USS Fort McHenry (LSD-43) and USS Ponce (LPD-15). Meanwhile Spencer led engineering teams that studied short-term mitigation strategies that could work on both ships.
Ultimately, after conducting several different tests and collecting enough preliminary data on both ships, the teams devised a workable strategy where flight deck personnel will place portable heat shields under the Osprey’s over the deck nacelles.
While there are some differences due to deck plate thickness and below deck structure, the basic approach dictates that crews must insure the heat shields are in place within three minutes anytime the planes engines are turning, or prior to aircraft startup. According to Skinner, it’s not a permanent solution, but was workable and, more importantly, would support the most immediate goal - VMM-263’s deployment as part of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unite (MEU) with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group.
The overall effort also highlighted the value of having alternatives when devising solutions. According to Spencer, Naval System Warfare Center’s (NSWC) Carderock Division’s Dr. Judy Conley pointed out that AM-2 Expeditionary Airfield Matting had already proved viable in other situations and could be a workable mitigation tool’s upper surface aboard ships. Meanwhile, Jaredd Bird from NAVAIR’s Lakehurst, NJ, facility devised an alternative tool that became the primary mitigation design.
Normally, finding engineering solutions to problems takes considerable time. Certainly, past actions guide present activities, but the key aspect in this instance was, according to Spencer, the result of exceptional teamwork, good communication, coordination and cooperation among the various stakeholders and support organizations that were all focused on reaching an expedient and effective solution in a very limited time.
Skinner also pointed out that the process worked well due to the high level attention, time and resources thrown at the problem. In the engineering world, this was “Sort of a rapid response team activity,” he noted. “It’s amazing what you can get done when you have 3-star level attention directed toward the same goal.”
While Skinner, Spencer and Geyer all praised the teamwork between NAVAIR and NAVSEA, the collective effort went beyond those two systems commands. They all credited numerous stakeholders and support elements involved in making this effort a success, all the way from Headquarters Marine Crops and Naval Surface Forces Atlantic to the shipyards and countless people in the fleet, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, and squadron.
In fact, the search for a workable solution had NAVAIR engineers consulting with counterparts at NASA while designing the hotplates, using material on one design from Space Shuttle tiles. “We had three separate manufactured designs that led to a final configuration for the heat shield.” Skinner said.
Geyer noted that countless people in several organizations worked tirelessly to overcome obstacles. “There are so many people who did outstanding work to pull off this test in such a short timeframe, it would be impossible to recognize all of them individually,” he said.
Colonel Matt Mulhern, the V-22 program manager, believes the credit lies with those who made it happen. “A lot of people played key roles in finding ways to get the MV-22 certified for the upcoming deployment. It would take a novel to credit them all, but here at NAVAIR “Skinman”, Bill Geyer and his team deserve special mention. Skinman cleared the hurdles and the path forward, while Bill and his team took the bull by the horns and relentlessly pursued workable mitigations. Additionally, Sam Samimi, Dave Spencer and all their folks worked closely with us from the start. It’s this type of motivation, dedication and focus that underlies the framework for great teams.”
Exceptional as the teamwork was, the “hotplate” mitigation is not a long-term solution according to Spencer. “The goal is to have a solution that is invisible and of no concern to the Fleet Marine Force and Navy operators. To do so, we will generate a permanent solution that may require permanent ship alterations. There are several ongoing efforts including heat resistant deck coatings, passive thermal barriers and changes in ship structure.”
Down the road, the lessons learned from this evolution will also provide data for additional aviation certifications on other ships for the Osprey, and will also provide data for thermal impacts from the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). “The two aircraft bring significant thermal loads to the ships, but in very different ways,” Spencer said.
While the lessons learned with the MV-22 may not apply to the F-35B, Spencer did note that those personnel who worked this issue are directly involved with the work being done to support JSF. “If one fails to learn from the past, he is pretty much assured a bumpy future, at best,” he said.