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Nov 23, 2021

FRCE's H-53 line ends fiscal year with strong push

A Vietnam-era aircraft platform facing a challenging supply posture seems an unlikely candidate for an underdog victory story.

But that’s just what happened when Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) artisans made a hard push to the finish line to complete and return to the fleet two H-53 heavy-lift helicopters – each having seen various stages of work stoppage during their repair at the depot – before the end of fiscal year 2021. With a cross-disciplinary group of support entities behind them, the team finished the job just under the wire, delivering the first aircraft Sept. 29 and the second Sept. 30.

Those two aircraft helped FRCE’s Rotary Wing Division meet its goal of delivering 43 completed Planned Maintenance Interval (PMI) events in fiscal year 2021. The division includes the H-53 line, along with the UH-1N line and the V-22 production line at FRCE and its remote sites at the North Carolina Global TransPark in Kinston; Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina; and Hurlburt Field in Florida.

“Having the H-53 line push hard to the end helped fill a critical need for H-53 aircraft within the fleet,” said FRCE Commanding Officer Col. Thomas A. Atkinson. “This effort is a great example of the skill and dedication shared by our entire team at FRC East. I couldn’t be more proud of the workforce and their continual efforts to provide the highest level of service to the fleet.”

The H-53E is a sundowning aircraft, said David Williams, director of FRCE’s Rotary Wing Division, which means it is nearing the end of its life cycle within the fleet as its planned replacement, the new CH-53K King Stallion, completes testing and evaluation. This status can make it difficult for FRCE’s partners in Naval Supply Systems Command and Defense Logistics Agency to source the components needed to maintain and repair the aircraft. The only way to overcome these issues is to work cooperatively with internal and external partners to develop innovative solutions.

Often, the H-53 production line at FRCE has to work with engineering and manufacturing programs within the depot to produce a one-off part or develop a new procedure for a repair process that hasn’t been conducted before, Williams noted.

“The H-53 team faces hurdles that no other line faces simply because of the age of the aircraft, and I’m very proud of the team,” he explained. “I can’t say enough about the support we receive from manufacturing and engineering to resolve issues that have never been seen before. Every time we had a barrier, the team collectively resolved those issues and we kept moving forward. It truly is a team effort across the plant.”

Material constraints led to work stoppages on both helicopters earlier during the fiscal year, and unplanned work – maintenance requirements discovered after the aircraft arrived at FRCE, in addition to the work previously scheduled – had leaders believing the aircraft wouldn’t be completed until sometime in fiscal year 2022, said David Thorpe, H-53 branch head at FRCE.

“It’s an uphill battle with every aircraft, but our team never lost faith in their ability to get the job done” he said.

Williams agreed the team’s perseverance made all the difference.

“They felt confident that they could bring the schedule back on time and meet the challenge to finish both aircraft before the end of the fiscal year,” he said. “We didn’t want to look for excuses; we just wanted to look for how we could seize on what opportunities we had.”

The team used strategic schedule loading and worked an effective execution plan developed by the team’s supervisors, work leads, aircraft evaluators and quality assurance specialists, Williams said, which allowed each employee to know what the requirements are for meeting the completion goal by setting out measurable and achievable goals along the way. This ambitious but realistic plan set the team up for success, and an innovative solution to a supply constraint helped seal the deal.

While disassembling H-53 aircraft, FRCE’s mechanics and evaluators have recently been finding more and more damage and corrosion on T caps and substructure fittings, which make up the aircraft’s lower bilge frames underneath the cabin floorboards. The T cap is vital to the structure of the aircraft for load-bearing purposes, Thorpe said; without it, the aircraft can’t be cleared for operation.

FRCE’s manufacturing shop produced new T caps based on original specifications, but during removal of the old T cap on one aircraft, unserviceable fittings in the substructure were found. With a long lead-time to procure material and manufacture these parts, the team needed a new solution if they were going to have any chance to make the fiscal year deadline.

“We ended up going out to the boneyard, where we have some old 53’s sitting out there, and the guys pulled this particular fitting off four different aircraft that were available,” Thorpe said. “With some engineering guidance and instruction, we were able to get the fitting that was closest to the original to the machinist, who was able to upsize and bush the fitting to make it work. The solution was rigorously tested and approved, and the team was able to save the day. Without that thinking outside the box, the aircraft never would have made completion prior to the end of the fiscal year.

“We’ve got the talent to do the job. We’ve got a great engineering group, and we’ve got good support. Work-arounds and small miracles seem to happen here all the time,” Thorpe continued. “It’s hard work, but these little victories against the odds make it gratifying.”

FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.

Nov 16, 2021

FRCE returns final Harrier to Cherry Point squadron

The AV-8B Harrier program at Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) reached a milestone on the aircraft’s journey into the sunset as the line delivered the final aircraft it will service for one of the Marine Corps’ last Harrier squadrons.

In September, Marine Attack Squadron 542 (VMA-542) at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point took possession of the newly refurbished AV-8B Harrier, which had been in for Planned Maintenance Interval (PMI) inspection and Integrated Maintenance Program (IMP) assembly at FRCE since December 2020. FRCE has performed 45 of these events for the squadron since PMI’s inception in 2003; however, VMA-542 is slated to become Cherry Point’s first F-35 squadron and, as a result, has no more depot maintenance scheduled for its AV-8B Harriers.

Many of the production line’s maintainers have spent their careers associated with the AV-8B Harrier program at FRCE. They say it is bittersweet to watch as the aircraft is being replaced by the more advanced technology of the F-35.

“You’ve got a lot of blood, sweat and tears invested in the airplane, but you also understand that it’s time to move on,” said Ike Rettenmair, FRCE Fixed Wing Division director, whose Harrier experience dates back to his Marine Corps service. “There’s better technology out there with the F-35. It’s time, but it’s still kind of sad to see.”

Before the PMI-D inspection, the squadron disassembles the aircraft and turns it over to FRCE. Aviation maintenance professionals inspect the aircraft and repair the discrepancies they find, which accounts for about 5,300 hours of work, according to Rettenmair. After the PMI-D phase is complete, the aircraft enters the IMP assembly phase, during which FRCE artisans reassemble the aircraft, ground check it, and release it to the squadron for the aircraft’s functional check flight. FRCE is schedule to continue performing PMI-D inspections for the Marine Corps’ two remaining AV-8B squadrons through 2028. 

For its final aircraft for VMA-542, the AV-8B line went the extra mile to impress the squadron. IMP assembly averages 127 days, but the squadron’s deployment date was quickly approaching. The line shaved 12 days from the assembly phase to deliver the aircraft in 115 days – just six days before the Marine Expeditionary Unit’s planned workup date.

“Everyone knew we had to meet the turnaround time for the fleet, trying to make the boat, and it gave the team a ‘we can do this’ mentality,” said Jeff Broughton, AV-8 planner and estimator at FRCE. “The whole team chipped in their full support to meet the squadron’s needs.”

“All of us know how valuable it is for the Marines to get the asset back,” agreed Rettenmair. “When they have a product coming right out of the depot to go on deployment, that’s less headache for the squadron, fewer worries, fewer issues with the airplane.”

The line’s physical proximity to MCAS Cherry Point’s Harrier squadrons has cemented FRCE’s already close relationship with the Marines it serves. The squadrons and maintainers are collocated in the same office spaces, which makes face-to-face communication a daily occurrence.

“The quality of the work and the level of detail, especially when I sit in on their meetings and hear the teams interact, have been outstanding,” said Maj. Robert Lien, Marine Aircraft Group-14 aircraft maintenance officer. “Their goal is to beat the timeline without sacrificing quality. It’s really good to see that not just their minds but their hearts are into the machine. It’s awesome to see how they care about the Marines on the flight line.”

FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.

Nov 4, 2021

FRCE supports fleet through Sikorsky H-53 partnership

A partnership between Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) and Sikorsky is helping meet the fleet’s needs for critical parts for CH-53E Super Stallion and MH-53E Sea Dragon heavy-lift helicopters.

Under a performance-based logistics contract that is part of a public-private partnership (PPP) between FRCE and Sikorsky, the depot’s artisans provide the skilled labor required to repair and overhaul certain H-53 components, while Sikorsky provides the parts and logistics support. In fiscal year 2021, the partnership successfully reduced high-priority component backorders to help boost aviation readiness.

FRCE’s support of the partnership has proven successful even through a challenging production environment complicated by material constraints and pandemic-related considerations, which is a testament to the drive and dedication of the workforce, said David Rose, acting director of the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Production Department at FRCE.

“Our team has done a great job in mitigating not only the normal challenges to production, but has done so during uncertain times,” Rose said. “We managed to deliver the product and we pride ourselves on that. At the end of the day, it’s all about meeting the commitment we made to get the warfighter what he or she needs, and our performance in this program allows us to do that through the partnership with Sikorsky.”

FRCE helped Sikorsky meet the fleet’s needs by prioritizing workload to fulfill high-priority backorders, also known as Issue Priority Group 1 (IPG-1). An item becomes an IPG-1 based on a force activity designator, which is a classification assigned based on several factors including the requesting unit’s deployability.

“If you look at the last year, I think the big takeaway is that we were able to continue meeting our production goals on time despite the challenging environment, and bring down those fleet backorders to progress to the point that we promised our customers,” said Jamie Byrd, an industrial specialist in the Public-Private Partnership Management Branch of the MRO Business Office at FRCE. “Sikorsky was able to provide the material source that we needed, and production was able to step up and increase their output and meet the numbers that Sikorsky requested.

“With all of this, we were able to go beyond just filling the high-priority backorders to get a positive balance as far as inventory, and make the customer very, very happy,” Byrd added.

One example of FRCE meeting a stretch goal set by Sikorsky occurred in the H-53 blade shop producing almost three times its usual monthly output to close the fiscal year. In an average month, the blade shop produces about 15 main rotor blades; in September, Sikorsky requested 31, said John Miller, the Public-Private Partnership Branch program manager.

“They set some pretty lofty goals for FRC East to meet,” Miller said. “Not only did we meet that, but we exceeded it and produced 42 blades for the month of September. Doug Ford and his team in the blade shop never cease to amaze me. In August 2019, Sikorsky had more than 50 unfulfilled requisitions for H-53 main rotor blades; as of today, Sikorsky has zero unfulfilled requisitions and ample stock on shelf.”

The hydraulic shop provided another recent example of a team going the extra mile to meet the needs of the fleet through the Sikorsky partnership. The hydraulic and paint shops came together, Miller said, to produce nine primary servo cylinders in under a month – a timeline that had been unheard-of until that effort. The primary servo cylinder is a critical component on the H-53; it controls movement of the rotary-wing blades and is part of the cyclic pitch control system that allows the pilot to control the forward, aft and lateral movements of the helicopter.

“The hydraulic shop, the paint shop, quality assurance – they all came through when we needed them to,” Miller noted. “Everybody was really hustling and bustling to meet this goal.”

In addition to filling the IPG-1s, FRCE also managed to reduce turnaround times on critical items such as the H-53 main rotor head, one of the most complex components worked at the depot in terms of the number of sub-components and parts comprising the finished product. FRCE began servicing the main rotor head as part of the Sikorsky partnership in 2019.

“The turnaround time we quoted for the rotor head was a year – that’s how long it takes to get it processed, repaired, and back out to the fleet,” Byrd said. “And now the shop is doing it in seven to eight months. They’ve managed to reduce the turnaround time for that component in under two years.”

The extra effort FRCE puts into the partnership doesn’t just benefit the fleet, Byrd noted; it also helps secure future workload for the depot.

“We’ve been in this partnership with Sikorsky since 2006,” Byrd explained. “Because we were doing so well on Phase One, in 2019 we added 56 components to the partnership as Phase Two. And now, we have done so well with these that Naval Supply Systems Command is considering adding more components as a Phase Three. This partnership is positioning us to show that we can support the performance-based logistics contracts as we move to the H-53K and other future aircraft.”

Rose agreed that the strong relationship with Sikorsky benefits both the fleet and the depot.

“We’re their predominant partner, and that’s something that we value,” he said. “It’s like the old adage: You’re going to keep taking your car to the same place as long as you’re a satisfied customer. We want to make sure our partnership with Sikorsky stays solid because, at the end of the day, it’s all about getting the warfighter what they need, and this partnership provides FRC East another avenue to support the fleet. It takes an effort from the whole team: the production controllers, the estimator and evaluators, the engineering support, all of these people working behind the scenes before the component ever gets handed to the artisan who assembles it.

“It sounds cliché, because we say it every time: You give FRC East what FRC East needs, and we will always accomplish the task, and do it in line with the commitment that we made,” Rose continued. “The sky is the limit with the workforce here.”

FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.

Nov 2, 2021

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast’s P-8 Fleet Support Team wins 2021 DON Acquisition Excellence Sustainment Team of the Year Award

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast's (FRCSE) P-8 Fleet Support Team (FST) has been selected as the recipient of the 2021 Department of the Navy (DON) Acquisition Excellence Awards (AEA) for Sustainment Team of the Year.

Each year the DON AEAs recognize individuals and teams who contribute outstanding achievements to Navy and Marine Corps programs throughout the fiscal year. The competition was particularly tight this year, as dozens of participants from NAVAIR, NAVSEA and NAVSUP competed.

'This award recognizes the amazing work by the P-8 FST and PMA-290 to keep these Patrol aircraft mission-ready,' said Steven Faulk, FRCSE's P-8 FST Lead. 'When we talk about turn-around-time (TAT), we don't take it lightly – it is not weeks or days, but hours that matter. Every sustainment team is tracked to a sustainment product baseline (SPB) and is also indirectly measured by the number of mission-capable aircraft. We have performed exceptionally well at both of those measures this past year.'

According to the DON AEA program criteria, the Sustainment Team of the Year Award recognizes groups that depict exceptional strides in sustainment and life-cycle logistics of a weapon system or product by improving readiness, processes and supportability or reducing sustainment costs.

The program benchmarks further state that the team must exemplify a culture that leverages sustainment as a strategic advantage, establishes advances in sustainment management or life-cycle logistics, and adopts inventive approaches to overcoming unusual barriers or obstacles.

The collective team, composed of 119 members with a program consisting of over 100 aircraft throughout the world, were cited for their dedication and hard work in making every dollar count, as well as achieving the Fleet's best readiness benchmarks at 87 mission-capable (MC) and 58 full mission-capable (FMC) aircraft against goals of 80 and 56 respectively.

'We contribute our success to a dedicated team working toward a common goal,' Faulk said. 'The P-8 Fleet utilizes the Maintenance Operations Center (MOC) approach to readiness. All non-mission capable (NMC) aircraft are briefed during a daily conference call, and partially mission capable (PMC) calls occur weekly. All key players participate in the conferences, which allows all parties to ask questions, receive answers and solve problems in real-time. Before the P-8 program initiated the MOC process, we were nowhere close to the numbers we are today.'

Each year the award ceremony has been traditionally hosted at Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers (COMFRC) in Patuxent River, Md. However, due to lingering concerns related to COVID-19, the ceremony will take place virtually on November 4.

'Our P-8 team's engineering and logistics professionals represent the best in the business and exemplify what every FST member strives to accomplish,' said Tim Pfannenstein, FRCSE's FST Site Director. That goal is to deliver superior engineering and product support to all of our program office sponsors and the warfighters.'

About Fleet Readiness Center Southeast

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) is Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, employing approximately 5,000 civilian, military and contract workers. With annual revenue exceeding $1 billion, the organization serves as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy, Naval Air Systems Command, and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers by maintaining the combat airpower for America's military forces.