WHIDBEY ISLAND, WA –
Less than 35 days after inducting a CMV-22 Osprey aircraft to repair a crack to an inner skin panel, Fleet Readiness Center Southwest’s (FRCSW) unique refurbishing capabilities and resources were tapped by the Navy once again—this time to repair an EA-18G Growler involved in a flight deck mishap.
Because of the command’s investments in the latest maintenance and restoration technologies and systems, the estimated repair time will be approximately 50 percent sooner than purchasing the Growler’s components from the aircraft’s original manufacturer, Boeing.
A version of the F/A-18F Super Hornet, the Growler is an airborne electronic attack (AEA) platform and is one of a variety of aircraft typically assigned to naval aircraft carriers.
On Jan. 14, while performing operations in the South China Sea aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), an F-35C Joint Strike Fighter aircraft struck the flight deck, slid and caught fire. Debris from the mishap damaged the Growler’s aft fuselage under the vertical tail.
Specifically, the S9 skin in between the Y631 and Y645 formers (fuselage structure) was punctured, according to Ehren Terbeek, F/A-18 Legacy and E/F program manager.
The Growler, assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 136, was inducted by FRCSW on Feb. 15 as an in-service repair (ISR), or a repair that is handled outside of scheduled maintenance.
“The repair plan is to remove the vertical tail in order to remove the S9 and S10 skins. We will replace the S9 skin and are hoping to save the S10 skin after evaluating it with a non-destructive inspection (NDI),” Terbeek said.
“We will need to NDI the Y631 former to verify that there is no crack, put the skins back on and place the vertical tail back on. If we do not have to replace the Y631 former or the S10 skin it should be around 4,500 manhours or about nine months.”
Terbeek said that the command will manufacture the Y645 former using its Flexible Manufacturing Cell (FMC). It will be the first Growler part to be made on the FMC.
The manufacturing cell is the first of its kind in the Defense Department and is comprised of six computer numerically controlled (CNC) five-axis machines and a pallet system which are made by DMG-Mori and Fastems, respectively. The FMC’s fixturing and preprogrammed parts were initially designed to support F/A-18 Hornet fighter and the E-2/C-2 airframe landing gear.
The CNC machines are capable of milling, turning and grinding within one machine and can be used on parts and components made of aluminum, steel and titanium.
The Growler’s former is made of aluminum, and once the material is received, manufacturing of the component should take about three weeks, Terbeek said. Manufacturing costs total approximately $208,000.
“Of that amount about $107,000 would be for non-recurring charges for modeling, programming and prove-out due to the fact this is the first time it is being manufactured; plus material is $23,906,” Terbeek said.
In addition to a crew leader and three sheet metal mechanics, teammates from the command’s engineering and manufacturing departments will contribute to the repair.
Assignment of the aircraft after repairs are complete is currently undetermined.
“It would depend on Commander Electronic Attack Wing Pacific (CVWP) at Whidbey Island and the aviation Type Commander (TYCOM) to determine if it is still needed at VAQ-136 or a different squadron,” Terbeek said.
The VAQ-136 aircraft is the third Growler FRCSW has inducted under a mishap or damaged scenario.