Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) is gearing up to return an MV-22 Osprey to the fleet after conducting a wing-off stow ring replacement on the aircraft, the first completion of this procedure by a Naval Aviation depot. In another inaugural depot-level repair, FRCE artisans tackled corrosion on the aircraft’s K-fittings with the wing off, rather than the standard wing-on method; this required a novel approach to the process.
found ourselves performing work on this airplane that was not part of our normal routine. We were not the first people to take a wing off an MV-22 by any means, but FRCE was the first depot to do it.”
One unique feature of the MV-22 is the wing/rotor fold system that allows the rotor blades to fold inward, the nacelles to be rotated down, and the entire wing to turn 90 degrees clockwise, stacking it above the body of the aircraft. This folded configuration considerably reduces the footprint of the MV-22, allowing it to operate off all Navy L-class amphibious ships, including LHA/LHD amphibious assault ships. It can also be stowed on full-size CV/CVN carriers.
According to Don McLean, V-22 overhaul and repair supervisor at FRCE, the stow ring is a key element of the wing/rotor fold system.
“It’s a crucial component. The stow ring is what allows the plane to stow the wing 180 degrees,” McLean said. “It also holds the airplane and the wing together. Take the stow ring off the wing and the fuselage will not stay together.”
The V-22 team discovered the corrosion on the aircraft’s stow ring when the MV-22 was inducted for planned maintenance. Corrosion is a problem common to military aircraft like the MV-22, which are flown in some of the most demanding operating environments on the planet. According to Sinsel, the stow ring had to be replaced and this would require removing the wing.
“After working extensively with engineering, we made a decision to remove the wing; we felt like this was something we’re going to be doing in the future, so we might as well tackle it now,” he said. “Removing the wing is not a process that has been commonly executed. We had data to go by, but it was coming mainly from stricken and salvaged aircraft rather than airplanes that were going to go back into a flight status.”
The removal of the wings also impacted the work to be done on the aircraft’s K-fittings. As with the stow ring, FRCE’s V-22 team had done work on K-fittings before, but this had always been performed on the aircraft. With this MV-22’s wing removed, McLean said, artisans had to either wait until the wing was back on the aircraft or explore the possibility of tackling the K-fittings off the aircraft.
“This team is full of out-of-the-box thinkers who will attack any challenge. When we thought we would have to stop work because the wing was on the deck, they immediately began to explore possible solutions,” McLean said.
K-fittings are a critical component that house the flaps that control the aircraft’s up and down movements. When conducting a replacement, artisans must place the new fitting within 30 one-thousandths of an inch of the original fitting’s location.
According to Jonathon Risner, FRCE’s V-22 production manager, the work involving the K-fittings required intensive collaboration and an almost obsessive level of attention to detail.
“When you talk about K-fittings, you cannot understate the importance of accuracy,” Risner said. “Those parts are laser measured, checked and rechecked countless times. They have to be precise. Engineering worked closely with us through the entire process because this had never been done on a maintenance stand before. We had previously replaced them on the aircraft. The engineers had to identify all the points off the aircraft that need to be verified once the fitting went back on the aircraft.”
Austin Dixon, V-22 overhaul and repair supervisor at FRCE, said the V-22 team had no hesitation about venturing outside their comfort zone in order to gain new expertise.
“This was the third airplane we did K-fittings on, but on the previous two, we performed the work on the aircraft,” Dixon said. “We decided as a team that we needed to be able to do this off the aircraft if it was possible. We worked very closely with engineering to make sure this could be done, and we did it successfully. As far as I know of, this has never been done anywhere else.”
Sinsel also cited collaboration as crucial to the success of the project. Despite the challenges the team faced, he said the learning process equipped the depot with new skill sets moving forward.
“This was a challenging project,” he said. “We were dealing with a lot of unknowns so it required a total team effort here at the depot. We worked closely with the quality department, our engineers, logistics and parts, and many others. Everyone faced challenges throughout this process that we had to overcome, but those challenges are what sharpens the spear going forward. We’ve done two other wing lifts since then, and we were able to apply the lessons learned from this first one and ensure the next two were completed successfully and with a shorter turnaround time.”
According to McLean, the project showcases what a team of highly skilled and dedicated professionals can accomplish. He also said it underscores the motivation that drives the FRCE team.
“We’ll always be able to look back at this project when we are stumped with the next project,” McLean said. “We can look back and realize that we can accomplish anything. We just need to put the right people together—the right team. It’s important because, at the end of the day, what we do affects national defense. We’re here for the warfighter. It’s serious business and I think at FRCE we do it better than anybody else.”