On June 2, the Fleet Support Team executive and Fleet Readiness Centers chief engineer queried Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) on the status of the E-2/C-2 airframes fuel heat exchanger testing and turnaround.
The heat exchangers, vital components used for heating fuel to prevent ice forming and blocking an aircrafts fuel filter, had become one of the primary readiness degraders of the E-2C, C-2A and E-2D fleet. The fleet needed them, and there was no way for the command to deliver without resolving some perplexing issues.
The first issue was that the test bench in the pneudraulic fuels shop in Building 379 that supported these had not been functional in decades. A replacement bench was selected, but its arrival date had been repeatedly delayed. Furthermore, the artisans who worked on the exchangers had long since retired.
Meanwhile, more than 20 units had arrived for rework and there was no way to ensure they were safe for flight.
New units had been order and built long ago. However, a contractor measurement error on the mounting brackets hampered installation due to the significant amount of rework required for correction.
Lastly, FRCSW was weathering the full force of the COVID-19 pandemic, and most hours of the day, the command looked like a ghost town.
Except for the pneudraulic fuels shop.
Newly assigned pneudraulic systems mechanics Jonathan Medina and Reynante De Castro teamed with contractor pneudraulic systems mechanics Ronald Rimorin, Romano Ancheta and Daniel Leano to re-establish capability on various components including E2T0 forward and D057 aft fuel pumps. None had taken a single day off during the pandemic.
When the team heard about the issue with the heat exchangers, they stepped forward and scoured the shop to find the relic support equipment once used to work the procedures. There was a will to support the fleet; they only needed to know the way.
A little math and brass unstuck things. The E2/C2 maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) engineering team provided the math.
With the shops help, the engineers soon determined that the heat exchangers could not test on the old defunct test bench. However, a nearby LF-8 temperature bath could test the components low temperature point; the UF13 bench could test the oil flow and range requirements; and the UF7 fuel test stand, the fuel flow requirements.
The fact that these multi-ton benches were 30 feet apart remained an unsolvable issue, until the brass came in: FRCSW Production Officer Cmdr. Jeffrey Brown and FRCSW Components Officer Cmdr. Andrei McArthur began weekly visits to the shop.
They brought every FRCSW stakeholder and problem-solver not currently quarantining into play. Suddenly, processes that took months became possible in days.
Afterward, MRO engineers identified approximately $900 worth of adapters, gauges, connectors and some humble farm fuel hoses to cross connect the UF7 bench to the UF13 bench. The artisans, with a little number crunching and guidance from engineering, made the tests successful.
Nevertheless, further issues arose. The UF13a bench had not risen above 150 degrees in decades, until FRCSW facilities managed to return it to its full operational capability of 200 degrees.
The high pressure/high flow aqueous cleaner was long dead, but the clean shop developed a work around using agitated degreasers and meticulous steam blasting.
The heat exchanger O-rings were no longer current, but engineering identified replacements and production control personnel scoured San Diego to find replacements.
By late August, the flow shop was fully repairing, testing and verifying the fuel exchangers and returning usable ones to the fleet. In addition, the shop is beginning to work on dozens of other components including hydraulic gate valves, oil coolers and other high fuel flow devices.
This has been a hard year, yet FRCSW is at times a sleeping giant. When the team works together and the giant wakes, anything is possible.