FRCE transportation branch keeps aircraft repair facility in motion
Fleet Readiness Center East is an organization on the move. Parts and components have to be carried from shop to shop. Aircraft must be towed in and out of hangars. And, three distant detachments have to be maintained from the main facility aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, requiring everything from office supplies to aircraft wings.
The constant in all this motion is the Transportation Branch. The branch’s main function is to support the production lines by transporting aircraft parts, test and support equipment, and airframes when and where they are needed. The 33 personnel who work for the branch can impact production at every step of an aircraft’s journey through FRCE, according to Gabriel Garcia, transportation branch manager.
“FRC East personnel can’t work without the parts, the tools or the equipment to get the job done. Also, if the parts don’t move, mechanics have no workspace to start the next evolution,” said Garcia. “You need the airframe to come in, the tools and parts to fill in that airframe, and once it’s filled up, you need the space to work, so the completed product has to leave. We provide that transportation.”
The transportation branch runs according to a tight schedule. “Mule trains,” which are strings of parts wagons pulled by an electric cart, run on 30-minute routes inside FRCE’s two main production buildings. Outside, diesel mule trains have about two and half hours to complete a delivery, which can take them all over the massive FRCE complex, and frequently work on an on-demand basis. Transportation vehicle dispatch records show the mule trains move about half a million parts a year, while forklifts account for another 85,000 parts moved.
Due to the independent nature of the work, it’s imperative that transportation employees be reliable, Garcia said.
“Once they’re dispatched on the job, you need to have the trust and confidence that the individual is going to do what they need to do safely, accurately, on time, and then come back and respond for the next move,” he said.
Mule train driver Lester Cannon has taken these requirements to heart in almost 10 years on the job with transportation. Cannon retired from FRCE in 2010, after 42 years working in a number of production jobs, and started working as a mule train driver soon after. He said that maneuvering an aircraft onto a crowded hangar floor is one of the most stressful but rewarding parts of a transportation driver’s job.
“You have to come in the aisles with a 20-foot tow bar, back these aircraft out, wingtips over wingtips, then get them out the doors and take them to flight test or wherever they have to go,” Cannon said. “There’s a lot of things that no one actually realizes until they’re behind the wheels of one of these tugs.”
Other transportation specialists are retired or former Marines who are looking for a new career or to stay in touch with their old one. David Infante is a former Marine who aspires to a career as an avionics technician. He said his current job in transportation gives him an opportunity to help keep the aircraft on schedule.
“As a former Marine, I feel like I’m helping all my brothers and sisters out there,” said Infante. “It may just be a box here and there, but in the end it all adds up.”
The transportation branch’s regular truck runs between Cherry Point and detachments at MCAS New River, N.C., and MCAS Beaufort, S.C., keep the distant production facilities supplied with cleaning products, office supplies, tools and aircraft parts, among other items. FRCE’s new H-1 production line in Kinston will also receive daily service once it becomes operational later this spring.
“We could take anything down from envelopes to an entire 53-foot dry van full of stuff,” said Danny Beligotti, truck driver. “Today, we’ll be taking some F-35 gear and items from the tool room. It changes every week.”
It takes a lot of attention to detail to keep all these moving parts headed in the right direction. Jacqueline Davis has worked in the transportation branch for 17 years, and she handles administrative services as the lead dispatcher. This includes payroll, checkout and maintenance records on government vehicles, mileage reports, fuel costs, credit card queries, and all the other details that are required to keep vehicles and their drivers on the road.
“I love my job. I like the people, and I enjoy staying busy. My job includes everything from trip tickets to payroll to monthly safety inspections, anything that requires a paper trail,” Davis said. “I know that what I do helps keep the aircraft parts moving from shop to shop, so it’s very important that we’re here.”
According to Garcia, the transportation branch’s success relies on cooperation and understanding from the customer, as well as commitment and integrity from the employees. The program operates with clear expectations of time and performance, and the transportation branch’s role is to serve the needs of all production lines.
“The goal is customer satisfaction, and we need the customer to understand what our role is and how we function in order to provide the best support,” Garcia said. “We average thousands of requests a week, and asking 33 people to handle all those requests – it’s amazing what we get done in the time we have available.”
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 generates combat air power for America’s Marines and naval forces while serving as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.