NAVAL AIR STATION NORTH ISLAND, Calif. –
For more than 40 years, the CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopter has been a workhorse in the logistical support of naval and Marine Corps missions throughout the world.
The Sikorsky-built aircraft is one of the largest helicopters ever produced by the Defense Department, capable of transporting up to 30 personnel or 30,000 pounds of cargo.
About 140 of the helicopters remain in service. They are found in naval squadrons on the East and West Coast, and those assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar (MCAS) are maintained and repaired by Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW).
Of the more than 100 personnel who comprise the FRCSW CH-53 program, about 80 are artisans who are sheet metal mechanics (the largest group), electricians and mechanics. Other contributing teammates include production control and planners.
The command’s CH-53 program operates in Building 333 where fiberglass and component work is completed, and Building 378 where the remaining airframe work is done.
Maintenance of the Super Stallion is based upon a 54-month cycle called the Integrated Maintenance Program (IMP).
Requiring approximately 21,000 manhours per aircraft, the IMP targets structural repairs to the fuselage and includes replacing the skin, transition bulkhead, cockpit floorboard, any KAPTON electrical wiring upgrades and corrosion repairs throughout the aircraft.
After induction, FRCSW artisans disassemble the helicopter and start the IMP inspection specifications. Disassembly typically includes electronic and mechanical components so the artisans can access areas of the airframe for metalwork.
The IMP combines organizational level (O-level), or work normally assigned to Marine Corps squadrons, with depot-level work.
Artisan O-level work, which is funded through the Depot Readiness Initiative (DRI) and 1A1A, or Mission and Other Flight Operations, totals approximately 750 hours annually.
Looking forward, the CH-53E program is applying Naval Sustainment System (NSS) concepts to its operations including the establishment of a production control center to better manage maintenance phases of the airframe.
The NSS was introduced to the command two years ago to improve fleet readiness by combining best commercial practices with creative solutions throughout the production lines.
FRCSW returns about 10 Super Stallions to the fleet annually.