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Apr 8, 2024

New process helps improve results for H-53 fitting at FRCE

A process developed and refined at Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) is producing positive results in the maintenance, repair and overhaul of the CH-53E Super Stallion and MH-53E Sea Dragon heavy-lift helicopters serviced at the depot.

A team of engineers and artisans from the H-53 Aircraft Components Shop worked together to improve the manner in which the aircraft’s spar fittings are evaluated for fit, resulting in a higher acceptance rate and faster turnaround times for the components. The spar fittings fasten the helicopter’s horizontal stabilizer to the tail pylon, allowing the horizontal stabilizer to prevent the helicopter from experiencing excessive up-and-down pitching during flight.

The new process uses a pressure plate and pressure-sensitive film to clearly identify high and low areas on the mount feet of the two inboard metal spar fittings in the horizontal stabilizer, which affix to corresponding mating surfaces on the tail pylon. These mount feet must make 80% contact, with no gaps larger than two-thousandths of an inch, said Jason Gaskill, an H-53 airframe production support engineer with the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Engineering Production Line Support Division at FRCE. Spar fittings that cannot meet the required tolerances must be removed from inventory and replaced with new fittings, which are either purchased from commercial manufacturers or produced by FRCE’s machine shop.

These tight tolerances require an incredible level of precision work from the machinists who blend the surfaces of the reworked fitting; the bright pink dye left behind following a fit check using the pressure-sensitive film gives the machinists a visual indication of exactly where they need to grind. It works in much the same way as dentists use articulating paper, also known as bite paper, to identify where teeth contact during biting and grinding, he said.

“Many of these fittings have undergone years of maintenance, from removing superficial corrosion with a scouring pad to machinists grinding and blending to remove minor corrosion,” Gaskill explained.  “If it’s not a new fitting straight from the manufacturer, somebody has removed minor corrosion at some point. And when you’re talking measurements of a thousandth of an inch, the machinists don’t have a way to judge exactly which areas of the fitting they’re removing material from, or whether they’ve removed the exact same amount of material from one of the surfaces compared to the other one.”

Because the human eye isn’t able to measure increments that small, Gaskill said, the team sought to develop a process to let the machinists know exactly what type of work needs to be done to the stabilizer side of the fitting.

“Now we can give them a visual representation of what areas require blending and how much needs to be taken off,” Gaskill said. “We wanted to put in place a good, solid process so we know that what the shop is putting out is a good product without 100% replacement of these fittings.”

The process for using pressure-sensitive film to verify contact on the stabilizer side fittings, for both leading and trailing faces, has been rigorously tested by engineers at FRCE and written as a temporary engineering instruction, which means it is now approved for use within the H-53 Aircraft Components Shop.

Saving the reworked fittings that are brought into tolerance has multiple benefits, Gaskill noted. It saves taxpayer dollars by avoiding the cost of a new fitting and reduces turnaround time for the H-53 aircraft in work on the depot’s H-53 production line.

Amy White, an aircraft examiner on the depot’s H-53 line, said the cost of replacing the spar fittings could run as high as $150,000.

“Before, if the gaps were bad, we just had to replace them,” White explained. “Now we’re able to save many of them, between what the machinists are doing by sanding down the pink, taking another impression and seeing where we are, maybe sanding some more.

“Once we get to that 80% contact, we’re good to go and we’ve saved those fittings,” she continued. “And we spent labor hours working on it, instead of $150,000 in materials plus the labor cost of replacing the fittings within the components.”

Paul Guthrie, sheet metal work leader in the H-53 Aircraft Components Shop, said the new process also supports an improvement in personnel utilization.

“Instead of having to change out that fitting, we can spend a few hours checking the spar fitting and sanding it down in hopes of saving it,” Guthrie said. “We can do three to four impressions with the pressure-sensitive film as the process goes along and, if by that point, the fit check hasn’t reached 80% contact or at least shown significant improvement, that’s when a decision is made. If we don’t see a major improvement or it’s too far out of tolerance or specification, then we have to get a new fitting.”

This verification of flush mating surfaces on the spar fittings’ mount feet also helps reduce overall turnaround times for H-53 aircraft maintenance at FRCE, Guthrie said.

An out-of-tolerance spar fitting leads to fitment issues when it’s time for the H-53 production line to connect the stabilizer to the helicopter’s tail pylon, which in turn slows down production on the aircraft line as the fitting has to be reworked or discarded and a new one procured or produced, Gaskill noted.

“That’s why I really wanted a process that could address this in the back shop,” he said. “Because if we don’t address it in our shop, then when the H-53 line is ready to install the stabilizer and it doesn’t install properly, that holds up their work. It’s a hard stop.

“I feel really good about this process,” Gaskill continued. “It gives the components shop the ability to say they know the stabilizer side of the fitting is not the problem, and they have the technical data to back that up. And it allows us, as engineers, to know we need to look elsewhere to address the issue. One of the things we like to do as engineers is eliminate things that aren’t the problem so we can focus on what it could be, rather than every potential possibility.”

Gaskill said the team developed the initial idea for the process after discussing the spar fitting fitment issues with a senior engineer, who mentioned that the depot’s composite shop used the pressure-sensitive film to check for gaps between the composite layers of bonded tee caps, another fitting found on the H-53. While the spar fittings involve metal-to-metal contact rather than composite materials, Gaskill thought the same concept could work.

“I was trying to think of a way to get all of the high spots on the fittings sanded at one time and, with this, we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. We’ve got a source of supply for the film. We had the plate from another process, although we are now working on getting a plate just for this specific use. We started with some trial runs and it turns out that this just works really, really well.”

MRO Engineering Department Head Thomas Osiecki said the development of this process provides an excellent example of how cooperation between MRO Engineering and the depot’s production elements leads to improvements that benefit both the FRCE workforce and the nation’s military aviators. 

“It’s exciting to see the success that Jason and the FRC East team have experienced in establishing this method of identifying and correcting gaps on H-53 spar fittings, and the positive impact it’s having on cost and turnaround time for H-53 maintenance,” Osiecki said. “This is just one example of what our FRC East MRO Engineering Department team members do every day – they support the Fleet by helping improve maintenance outcomes in our component shops and aircraft lines. The FRC East teamwork on display with this effort helps speed delivery of components and aircraft back to our warfighters.”

Looking forward, Guthrie said he hopes other entities within the depot and beyond might be able to look at what the H-53 Aircraft Components Shop has done with the pressure-sensitive film and find uses for it within their own areas, as well.

“This film is a pretty readily available commercial product, it’s fairly easy to use and is giving us great results,” he said. “There may be someone out there in the facility or even in the Fleet that will say, Hey, we could do that too – just like our engineers picked up the idea from composites,” he said. “And if someone else has this same type of problem, they could easily try this process and see if it works.”

In fact, the H-53 Components Shop is now conducting trials of the process on the tail pylon spar fittings, and hope to see an approved temporary engineering instruction released in the near future.

“Of course, those fittings have never been checked this way, either,” White said. “And that’s important, because we can bring all these stabilizer fittings into tolerance but, if the fittings on the tail pylon are out of tolerance, it’s not going to matter what we’re doing to the stabilizer side. Using this process on the tail pylon side is another way to save time and cost for both FRCE and our customers in the Fleet.”

For Gaskill, the best part of this process development is knowing the artisans in the components shop are turning out the highest possible quality product for the H-53 line and customers in the Fleet.

“When we finish that horizontal stabilizer, we know that it’s good to go for mounting to a tail pylon,” he said. “And I just can’t praise the artisans enough. They took a process that they’ve never done before, and now they’re able to get these done so efficiently. They’re doing such a great job, and this process wouldn’t be where it is without them.”  

Apr 2, 2024

FRCE inspires next generation of engineers during E-Week activities

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) recently engaged thousands of Eastern North Carolina students with interactive, STEM-based learning activities as part of National Engineers Week. 

The depot’s STEM Outreach Team conducted a total of 54 events at 39 local schools, engaging over 4,700 students in celebration of National Engineers Week. Also known as E-Week, the national observance is one of the largest science, technology, engineering and math events in the United States.   

Outreach efforts play a pivotal role at FRCE, enabling the depot to expand its reach and connect with the local community, according to FRCE Executive Director Mark Meno.  

“Engineers Week is a great opportunity for the depot to reinforce its commitment to the community and inspire the next generation of engineers and aviation professionals,” said Meno. “By inspiring students to explore STEM-based career paths, we not only help shape their future but also foster a more innovative future workforce for Eastern North Carolina.”

While National Engineers Week officially falls on Feb. 18-24, FRCE’s STEM Outreach Team extended its efforts over a four-week period, beginning Feb. 15 and ending March 13. This year’s E-Week outreach efforts was the largest in FRCE history, according to FRCE K-12 STEM Education Outreach Coordinator Michelle Smith. 

“Engineers Week continues to be one of FRC East’s largest STEM outreach efforts,” said Smith. “With the depot’s ongoing growth, our outreach efforts have become increasingly critical in shaping the depot’s future workforce by allowing us to engage, inspire and educate students about the STEM-based careers at FRC East.

“Over the years, the popularity of E-Week has grown,” Smith continued, “giving us the opportunity to extend the event beyond just a single week.”

Over 100 FRCE engineers volunteered to visit local schools to discuss the importance of STEM education and the role it could play in their future careers. FRCE aerospace engineer Timothy Gillikin said the outreach events positively impacted many students.   

“We use E-Week as a time to talk about STEM and engineering,” said Gillikin. “But we also really like to share what we do with the students because many of them know about Cherry Point and the base, but most don’t know about what FRC East does. We go into schools and really open their eyes to the sheer number of jobs and opportunities there are at the depot.”  

Kari Stallings, Academically or Intellectually Gifted Program teacher for A.H. Bangert Elementary School in Trent Woods, said the depot’s E-Week outreach efforts were beneficial for her students.

“It was a positive, hands-on learning experience for my group of fourth and fifth graders,” said Stallings. “They had a great lesson prepared where the students were able to test their engineering skills and learn through trial and error as many engineers do.

“It really opened their eyes to the different career paths in engineering that they may not have ever considered before,” Stallings continued. “My students are very inquisitive, so they enjoyed learning about all the different engineering opportunities available to them in the future.”

FRCE electrical engineer Zach Shuler emphasized the importance of introducing students to STEM-based learning at a young age.

“When investing in people and potential future employees, finding those who are already local to the area as they are more likely to stay and build a career here is very beneficial,” said Shuler. “It’s important to raise awareness early to get people invested in pursuing a career at FRC East.”

Many of the E-Week activities included open-ended design challenges rooted in engineering to encourage students to think outside of the box, according to Shuler.

“These challenges are always fun because there’s no one solution. The purpose of this is to help them work on their creativity by encouraging them to think outside of the box to find a solution,” said Shuler. “With every activity, I would see a group of students make something and I’d think to myself, ‘Wow, I would have never thought to do that.’ It’s very cool.”

One E-Week activity presented the students with a challenging scenario, according to Gillikin. Known as “flying paper devices,” the activity challenged students to design a flying device made entirely out of paper with two objectives: cover the maximum distance possible and remain airborne for the longest time.

“With this challenge, we have to make sure to emphasize that this is not a paper airplane challenge; this is a flying paper device challenge,” said Gillikin. “You might be pigeonholed into one way of thinking about a problem, but you’ve got to make sure you understand the objective. This is huge in engineering. You can’t begin to solve a problem until you know what you’re being asked.”

Shuler agreed with Gillikin that this challenge can be difficult for some students.

“When people hear us say, ‘flying paper device,’ they immediately think of paper airplanes,” said Shuler. “But actually, if you take a piece of paper, crumple it up into a ball and throw it, that’s a flying paper device that we know will go pretty far.”

To reach as many young minds as possible during E-Week, the FRCE STEM Outreach Team offered both in-person and virtual events, said Shuler.

“Virtual events can occasionally be less interactive but when I paused for questions, the students asked so many great, engaging questions,” said Shuler. “They were super interested in what was going on and they really loved the activity we did with them. The teachers even said the students really got something out of it. It was a great experience.”

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.

Apr 1, 2024

The Fleet Readiness Center Southeast AMAS team earns PMA-260 Team of the Year award

The Aviation Maintenance Advancement Solutions (AMAS) production and logistics team, one of the many Fleet Support Teams (FST) assigned to Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE), was recently recognized as the Common Aviation Support Equipment Program Office (PMA-260) Team of the Year. It’s the first time that an FRCSE FST has received the accolade. 

PMA-260 manages the procurement, development and fielding of common ground support equipment and automatic test equipment for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and is composed of 20 different teams covering areas like acquisition management, test and evaluation, and sustainment of equipment that allows the Navy and Martine Corps team to operate, repair and service aircraft. FRCSE’s AMAS team is one of those 20 teams. 

The AMAS team, located at Cecil Commerce Center, earned the award for imaging, repairing and logistics associated with Portable Electronic Maintenance Aids (PEMAs). 

PEMAs are laptops that are configured according to the type, model, series aircraft being serviced, and works like an interactive technical manual. The AMAS team’s primary responsibility is ensuring that PEMAs are provided to those who maintain aircraft operated by the Navy and Marine Corps – about 30 different types.

“Our warehouse is about 1,200 square feet,” said John Mason, FRCSE’s AMAS team lead logistician. “We have racks around the perimeter of the room that nearly reach the ceiling, and back in March 2023, our entire warehouse – including the floor space – was full of new PEMAs and others needing repair. The pallets covered every surface in the room, and at any given time, the Support Equipment Managing System, which is the system we use for processing, was tracking about 16,000 PEMAs requiring support.”

Year to year, the AMAS team, composed of about 22 personnel – is responsible for buying, processing, tracking, unboxing, imaging, repairing and shipping thousands of PEMAs.

This year alone, they completed 5,362 refreshes, which happen every four years, including replenishments for the team’s largest consumers -- F/A-18 Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers. 

A refresh consists of the team purchasing new laptop computers to replace all the existing PEMAs for customers at the organization (O), intermediate (I) or depot (D) repair level. The team buys, tracks, images and sends the ready-for-issue devices to the maintainers. Based on timelines and the amount of PEMAs delivered at a time – usually thousands – a refresh needs to be carefully planned to ensure timely delivery.

First, the team determines the number of PEMAs required, then they order the devices from the manufacturer. The items ship to the AMAS warehouse where they are processed, unboxed, organized, sent to the lab for imaging and finally shipped out. The team gives each customer 30 days with the new devices before requiring them to return the old ones. 

The requirements for Super Hornets and Growlers made up 3,501 of the total PEMAs refreshed, and the work was expected to take the AMAS team well into fiscal year 2024. However, they kicked into high speed, knocking out upwards of 250 PEMAs a week. 

“I’m extremely proud of the team’s contribution to providing the warfighter the right hardware and software tools for performing maintenance and repair on Navy and Marine Corps aircraft,” said Brad Sherrill, FRCSE’s AMAS FST lead. “These tools may not be large weapon systems or used in direct combat, but each is a vital tip-of-the-spear resource needed to keep planes flying.”

However, the AMAS team workload didn’t just stop at fleet requirements. The AMAS team also processed, outfitted, repaired, loaned, transferred, delivered, demilitarized and disposed of almost 6,500 other devices during 2023 -- totals far exceeding the expectations for the year.

“The AMAS Team provides PEMAs to all O, I, and D level repair facilities, but we also provides older repaired PEMAs to Navy and Marine Corps schools that are not part of the program of record and wouldn’t normally have access to these pieces of equipment,” Mason said. “This helps ensure students going through training have an actual piece of equipment to use while learning.”

Wherever there is an aircraft within the Navy and Marine Corps arsenal, there are PEMAs supporting the maintenance of that aircraft. Keeping that in mind, the FRCSE AMAS team doesn’t just come to work every day and do a job well; they provide essential support to the fleet, ensuring that every maintainer has a quality device that harnesses the data required for them to execute their piece of the mission. 

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 US Navy, Naval Air Systems Command, and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers by maintaining the combat airpower for America’s military forces. 

 

Apr 1, 2024

The Fleet Readiness Center Southeast AMAS team earns PMA-260 Team of the Year award

The Aviation Maintenance Advancement Solutions (AMAS) production and logistics team, one of the many Fleet Support Teams (FST) assigned to Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE), was recently recognized as the Common Aviation Support Equipment Program Office (PMA-260) Team of the Year. It’s the first time that an FRCSE FST has received the accolade. 

PMA-260 manages the procurement, development and fielding of common ground support equipment and automatic test equipment for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and is composed of 20 different teams covering areas like acquisition management, test and evaluation, and sustainment of equipment that allows the Navy and Martine Corps team to operate, repair and service aircraft. FRCSE’s AMAS team is one of those 20 teams. 

The AMAS team, located at Cecil Commerce Center, earned the award for imaging, repairing and logistics associated with Portable Electronic Maintenance Aids (PEMAs). 

PEMAs are laptops that are configured according to the type, model, series aircraft being serviced, and works like an interactive technical manual. The AMAS team’s primary responsibility is ensuring that PEMAs are provided to those who maintain aircraft operated by the Navy and Marine Corps – about 30 different types.

“Our warehouse is about 1,200 square feet,” said John Mason, FRCSE’s AMAS team lead logistician. “We have racks around the perimeter of the room that nearly reach the ceiling, and back in March 2023, our entire warehouse – including the floor space – was full of new PEMAs and others needing repair. The pallets covered every surface in the room, and at any given time, the Support Equipment Managing System, which is the system we use for processing, was tracking about 16,000 PEMAs requiring support.”

Year to year, the AMAS team, composed of about 22 personnel – is responsible for buying, processing, tracking, unboxing, imaging, repairing and shipping thousands of PEMAs.

This year alone, they completed 5,362 refreshes, which happen every four years, including replenishments for the team’s largest consumers -- F/A-18 Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers. 

A refresh consists of the team purchasing new laptop computers to replace all the existing PEMAs for customers at the organization (O), intermediate (I) or depot (D) repair level. The team buys, tracks, images and sends the ready-for-issue devices to the maintainers. Based on timelines and the amount of PEMAs delivered at a time – usually thousands – a refresh needs to be carefully planned to ensure timely delivery.

First, the team determines the number of PEMAs required, then they order the devices from the manufacturer. The items ship to the AMAS warehouse where they are processed, unboxed, organized, sent to the lab for imaging and finally shipped out. The team gives each customer 30 days with the new devices before requiring them to return the old ones. 

The requirements for Super Hornets and Growlers made up 3,501 of the total PEMAs refreshed, and the work was expected to take the AMAS team well into fiscal year 2024. However, they kicked into high speed, knocking out upwards of 250 PEMAs a week. 

“I’m extremely proud of the team’s contribution to providing the warfighter the right hardware and software tools for performing maintenance and repair on Navy and Marine Corps aircraft,” said Brad Sherrill, FRCSE’s AMAS FST lead. “These tools may not be large weapon systems or used in direct combat, but each is a vital tip-of-the-spear resource needed to keep planes flying.”

However, the AMAS team workload didn’t just stop at fleet requirements. The AMAS team also processed, outfitted, repaired, loaned, transferred, delivered, demilitarized and disposed of almost 6,500 other devices during 2023 -- totals far exceeding the expectations for the year.

“The AMAS Team provides PEMAs to all O, I, and D level repair facilities, but we also provides older repaired PEMAs to Navy and Marine Corps schools that are not part of the program of record and wouldn’t normally have access to these pieces of equipment,” Mason said. “This helps ensure students going through training have an actual piece of equipment to use while learning.”

Wherever there is an aircraft within the Navy and Marine Corps arsenal, there are PEMAs supporting the maintenance of that aircraft. Keeping that in mind, the FRCSE AMAS team doesn’t just come to work every day and do a job well; they provide essential support to the fleet, ensuring that every maintainer has a quality device that harnesses the data required for them to execute their piece of the mission. 

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 US Navy, Naval Air Systems Command, and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers by maintaining the combat airpower for America’s military forces.