Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida –
Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) recently received five new environmental protection shelters or ground check huts. The shelters aren’t just new to FRCSE, but they are the first of their kind aboard Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida.
Without the teamwork between FRCSE and Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command, the huts would not exist,” said Cmdr. David Drake, FRCSE’s Flight Test Director. “The funds that paid for construction were acquired internally, which shows a commitment from our leadership to constantly find better, safer and more efficient ways to operate.”
The primary purpose of the huts is to help extend the life of aircraft by protecting them and their components from UV exposure and heat. Also, the shelters were built keeping in mind the need for powered operations to take place beneath them, taking into account future aircraft such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
“While similar huts are used extensively on military bases throughout the southern half of the United States and in hot, sunny environments, the shelters are primarily used throughout the Fleet to keep avionics and machinery cooler resulting in increased on-time departure rates,” Drake said. “There is also the added benefit of the shelters providing cooler aircraft interiors for pilots and shaded environments for maintainers.”
Most depot maintenance activities will still be performed indoors within hangars, but the huts allow the flexibility for certain maintenance evolutions to occur right on the flight line.
“These huts have been in-work for a long time, and it’s truly amazing to see them up and running for not only my artisans but for all FRCSE personnel who are required to work on the flight line,” said Ryan Davis, FRCSE’s Trainers Ground Check Supervisor.
Conceived nearly six years ago, construction on the huts broke ground in December 2021 and was completed by the end of February. The shelters totaled approximately $1.4 million in cost, but the benefit to the depot and the crews that work beneath them is invaluable.
Those familiar with Florida’s scorching temperatures understand the risks of working in direct sunshine during almost any season, particularly for FRCSE’s ground and aircrews. Since the teams have taken possession, the boost in morale is significant.
“Morale of the artisans has risen because they know they now have a dry and shaded place to work during those long days on the flight line,” Davis said. “As of yet, we have not truly seen the significance of the huts, but we will once our hot, rainy season arrives.”
Before the shelters, the hazards for ground maintenance crews ranged from sunburn and heat exhaustion or stroke to melanoma and other types of skin cancers.
“It’s a three-fold benefit. Cooler equipment extends equipment life and prevents failures, cooler aircraft interiors prevent overheating aviators during preflight, and working in the shade creates a better quality of work-life for ground crews,” Drake said. “In the summer, we’ve had to delay preflights and functional flight check requirements, and we’ve even aborted missions based on aircrew dehydration. We also have had ground crew personnel with basal cell carcinomas or melanomas. We are hopeful that the shelters will decrease direct sun exposure and help avoid issues like this in the future.”