NAVAL AIR STATION NORTH ISLAND, Calif. –
From crafting repairs to damaged aircraft, to creative engineering solutions to aircraft maintenance procedures and even assisting in the production of a blockbuster movie, the Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) Fleet Support Team (FST) is a versatile group with a knack to solve just about any issue pertaining to naval aviation.
Comprised of approximately 500 engineers, logisticians, chemists and scientists, the FST has served as the Navy’s in-service support provider for engineering and logistical solutions for more than 20 years.
One of their roles is to handle all organizational and depot-level issues with the F/A-18 Hornet airframe, and to develop and plan repairs and modifications as in-service repairs or as part of scheduled depot maintenance events.
While the primary body of the FST operates from FRCSW, FRC Southeast handles issues affecting the Hornet’s engines and electro-optical infrared components and Naval Sea Systems Command works on some of the airborne electronic attack components.
With an operating budget of approximately $85 million FST engineers, along with the Materials Engineering Laboratory and the Maintenance Repair & Overhaul Engineering Team, develop targeted repairs and tooling which are often applicable to more than one airframe.
Three years ago, for example, the FST developed an updated repair to resolve a recurring problem found during inspections of F/A-18 Super Hornet composite engine bay doors.
A corner section of the doors was suffering delamination during removal for repairs or as part of the aircraft’s maintenance program.
The existing double-sided patch repair required special equipment and specialized composite certification, limiting the repair procedure to approximately 20 depot-level artisans within the
Navy. Repair capability was not possible through fleet personnel.
Further, the repair fabrication process were causing the non-destructive inspection (NDI) and quality assurance (QA) failures.
To resolve the issue, FST engineers created a tool with a cutting template to remove the delaminated area. A single-sided, pre-made patch was developed and bonded to the area with an adhesive. The new repair procedure has saved more than $7 million in replacement costs of Super Hornet engine bay doors.
The repair method, called a “step” repair, or the shaving off of a part in a step, is applicable to other airframes like the MV-22 Osprey.
Two years ago the FST turned its attention to an issue affecting more than 50 floorboards of MH-60S multi-mission Sea Hawk helicopters.
Some Helicopter Sea Combat (HSC) squadrons reported that corrosion and wear to the airframe’s aft floorboards interfered with the ability to install auxiliary fuel tanks needed for longer flights. The corrosion was at the tie-down point of the aircraft’s Extended Range Fuel Systems (ERFS) fuel tank.
Since the aft floorboards were not available within the supply system for another year, the FRCSW FST developed depot-level repair procedures until the new floorboards arrived.
The first step was the removal of the corrosion, and afterward, a determination if enough material remained of the floorboard to justify continuing the repair. If so, artisans applied a corrosion-prevention compound to those boards that passed the FST evaluation.
Lastly, installation of a doubler and shim allowed the ERFS placement enabling mission-readiness of those squadrons.
Problem solving for the FST sometimes extends beyond those resources readily available at the depot. In 2015 the FRCSW FST introduced one of the most versatile and efficient tooling sources used within naval aviation today: “Cold Spray” technology.
Cold Spray is a gun-based supersonic coating application that uses solid metallic powders, ceramics or alloys that are ground to a particle size of less than the diameter of a human hair. FRCSW primarily uses alloys in its cold spray procedures.
The technology uses pressurized helium or nitrogen to deliver the metallic agent to repair the portion of a component affected by wear or corrosion, restoring it to its original dimension.
The process is called “cold spray” because the temperature used in the application is lower than the melting points of the agents it delivers, avoiding any heat-induced influence to the substrate.
A time-saving process, cold spray can apply an alloy coating in less than five minutes, whereas a traditional chrome application takes about 20 hours to apply 20 ml to a part.
FRCSW initially used cold spray primarily on the Hornet airframe including three aluminum and titanium parts: the aircraft mounted accessory drive (AMAD) housing, the brake carrier housing and the AMAD gear shaft.
More than 10 AMADs were refurbished alone, saving the Navy over $1.5 million in replacement costs. Before, damage to one part of the AMAD resulted in scrapping the entire unit.
In addition to the F/A-18, cold spray applications are used on components of other platforms including the CH-53 helicopter, E-2C Hawkeye and the LM2500 engine.
Routinely sought for their expertise in solving aviation issues, occasionally the FST receives an extraordinary request. The most recent wasn’t from a squadron, line production or airframe program --- but from Hollywood.
In 2018 FRCSW’s F/A-18 FST hosted a production crew from Paramount Studios for assistance in filming the Tom Cruise movie “Top Gun: Maverick.”
Specifically, Paramount needed help in determining the locations and installation of the cameras on the interior and exterior of the F-model Super Hornet aircraft used in the movie.
After more than 1,000 hours of analysis, manufacturing and the painting of one aircraft for non-flying scenes, the FST and supporting FRCSW teammates helped Hollywood deliver the first movie of 2022 to surpass $1 billion in viewing sales.
More importantly, during Fiscal Year 2021, the FST and its sister teams played crucial roles in the command returning more than 150 mission-ready aircraft to the fleet; 28 of which were F/A-18s with a replacement value of roughly $1.8 billion.