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F35 Rapid Response Team Mechanics Prepared to Deploy

January 08, 2020

 
Photo of FRC East F-35 repair team

By Heather Wilburn, FRC East

CHERRY POINT — When issues arise with an F-35 Lightning II, a team of highly skilled aircraft maintenance professionals stands ready to rise to the challenge and get the jet back in the fight.

Whether the aircraft requires in-service repair or battle damage needs mending, the F-35 Rapid Response Team is ready to pack up and go, according to a recent release from Fleet Readiness Center East.

“Anything that happens outside the depot – for the Navy, Marines or Air Force – anywhere around the world, they call us and we can deploy these RRT team members at a moment’s notice. We go out to wherever that site may be and perform that repair,” said David Thorpe, F-35 branch head at FRC-East, where the team is headquartered.

The RRT consists of expert, cross-trained artisans who hold journey-level, expert status in at least one trade, and no lower than skilled, worker-level status in others. Having team members with multiple skill sets allows for flexibility when determining which configuration of the team to deploy, Mr. Thorpe said.

“The F-35 Rapid Response Team is like a maintenance and repair special operations force,” he explained. “The concept is that we can send fewer people and they can help each other do the work.”

The flexible configuration means the team can pick and choose which artisans to deploy to a mission, based on what the technical requirements will be. Some jobs require more expertise in certain trades than others. For example, a recent RRT mission to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., called for a dedicated low observable coating technician and a painter. Those skills sets aren’t required for every mission but were necessary in this instance because the repair required high expertise in reapplying the coating.

“Sometimes the team is not just the airframer, sheet metal mechanic and electrician. Sometimes we send the painter, or the LO technician,” Mr. Thorpe said. “We also have quality assurance specialists who are ready to go when depot-level quality needs are required to incorporate the repair and sign it off.”

Richard Lee Stiver Jr., an RRT airframes mechanic, agrees cross-training plays a large role in the team’s success.

“You have to know the airplane,” he said. “I’m airframes, sheet metal, and LO-qualified. We have to have the drive and understanding to do the things we’re tasked to do, and we also have to be able to retain the knowledge from all the trades across the board that we need to know. That plays a huge role in our success as a team: knowing each other’s jobs, and the ability for us to work together.”

The recent mission to Edwards involved a repair in a location that presented accessibility challenges and therefore also required expertise in low observable coating and paint restoration. The team had to remove a large panel from the aircraft in order to complete the repair – a panel that was not designed for removal under normal maintenance action, Mr. Thorpe said.

“A lot had to work in concert to get that aircraft back to a mission-capable status. We’ve got a lot of experience in taking off these big panels and putting them back down, but there are often complications involved in that,” he said of the repair, which involved an aircraft in the F-35 initial testing, operation and evaluation program with Navy Test and Evaluation Squadron 9, Det. Edwards.

“There were a lot of unknowns, because this particular skin removal hadn’t been done previously, but we were able to get the job done without many complications,” Mr. Thorpe continued. Engineers supply the team with the appropriate technical data prior to the mission, and that provides a solid jumping-off point; however, work doesn’t always go as planned, especially with first-time repairs.

“We ran into hiccups, just like with anything that’s never been done before, and we worked through them,” he said. “It was pretty difficult, but we wanted to keep our foot on the gas. Our team worked long hours and weekends to produce a quality product, safely and as quickly as possible, to support the warfighter and meet the mission – and we got really good reviews on the finished product.”

The unknowns of each mission are part of what drives the team to work harder, Mr. Stiver added.

“Not knowing what you’re getting into, and being able to push through it, stand back at the end and say, ‘That was a good time,’ is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job,” he said. “This feels a lot better than going somewhere for 30 days and doing a mundane fix. We thrive on the challenge.”

Source: CarolinaCoastOnline.com

 

A-6 Intruder Association Unveils New Havelock Tribute

May 20, 2019

 
A-6 Intruder Association unveils new Havelock tribute. ACT. MCAS Cherry Point

On Friday, May 17, commanders, pilots, aircraft maintainers from both the Navy and Marine Corps, as well as tech reps, family members and interested civilians gathered at the Havelock Tourist and Event center to listen to guest speakers and see the unveiling of a 9-foot granite tribute erected in honor of the A-6 Intruder – a brawny, workhorse attack aircraft that has seen conflicts from Vietnam to the Gulf War. >>>read more

 

Troubling Air Range Issues Demand Attention

May 13, 2019

 
Article discussing antiquated flight training facilities for US military. Allies for Cherry Point.

For a couple of years now, the topline strategy coming out of the Pentagon has called for a renewed emphasis on big nation state threats like Russia and China.

We’ve heard dire warnings from smart people who say the U.S. is rapidly losing its technological edge and that war with near-peer rivals would be much harder and more costly than we’d like.

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made improving “lethality” one of the top military buzzwords.

That’s why we were somewhat stunned to read a recent investigation report on the training ranges used by fighter jet pilots. The investigators found many training facilities are completely antiquated and unable to adequately prepare today’s units for a conventional war.

The investigation by the Defense Department Inspector General focused on ranges used to train for operations in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

For example, a Navy range in Nevada is still using 50-year-old surface-to-air simulators and electronic warfare simulators that do not “replicate the threats pilots would face in combat,” according to the report.

At a joint range up in Alaska, the electronic warfare simulators replicate Soviet missile systems from the 1980s and are so out of date that they do prepare pilots for today’s near-peer threats.

A U.S. Air Force training range in Japan features simulated surface-to-air threats “from the 1960s and 1970s,” according to the report.

Pilots complain that their training becomes “repetitive and predictable” after just a few runs.

“As a result,” the report concluded, “the aviation units in the USINDOPACOM area of responsibility could not train as they would fight.”

The IG blames these range problems on financial woes caused by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, ongoing counter-terrorism operations across the globe and the fluctuating budgets Congress imposed on the services during the past decade.

But at some point, the Pentagon also must take ownership of this problem.

It is not an effective use of scarce defense dollars to buy dozens of the most advanced aircraft in the world every year if the U.S. military cannot provide facilities for pilots to train on them and learn real-world warfighting skills.

This is just another example of how the politics of defense spending is eroding readiness. At one end are pressures to boost pay, mostly through targeted bonuses, and to increase the size of the force. At the other are the constant calls to ratchet up the purchase of high-tech weaponry and equipment.

So, what gets squeezed in the middle is the actual process of training the force we have to use the weapons systems we’ve already purchased.

Readiness is inherently complex and involves thousands of interrelated factors. It’s hard to hold the Pentagon leadership totally accountable for something that is essentially impossible to measure precisely.

This is especially true when most top leaders hold their top jobs only for a few years before moving on, creating a perverse incentive to kick the can down the road.

But finding Soviet-era missile systems at a training range used by F-22s and F-35s reflects a staggering level of negligence.

The inability of aviation forces to train as they fight increases the risk that they will be unable to accom- plish their mission and that attrition of pilots and aircraft will rise unnecessarily in an actual battle.

The problem has now been clearly identified. We are waiting to hear how it will be corrected.

(From the Editors – Marine Corps Times)

 

Lawmaker fights to stop wind farms

August 25, 2018

 
Wind farm. Allies for Cherry Point's Tomorrow.

From Lauren Ohnesorge of Triangle Business Journal:

NC Senator Harry Brown, representing Jones and Onslow Counties, believes wind turbines can have an adverse effect on the state’s military bases.

Bulldozers through cornfields, cranes erecting 5-story metal cylinders and turbine blades the length of tanker trucks: It’s the fear of Sen. Harry Brown (R-Jones, Onslow) and a handful of others who worked for years to get the wind martorium – which expires December 31 – in place.

Asked to articulate his fears, Brown says they surround BRAC – Base Realignment and Consolidation. The military is streamlining, he says, and looking for “reasons” to consolidate. A turbine impacting a training flight path could give them one, hence his support of a moratorium to study the issue.

But the military, at least publicly, has said the existing process – which requires a green light from the Department of Defense – is enough.

Right now, there’s just one utility-scale wind farm spinning in the state. The 104-turbine project, developed by Avangrid, spins near Elizabeth City, creating power for Amazon.

Drew Ball, director of the Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center, says North Carolina should be scrambling to get more. Ball says other developers are interested, but are stymied by the moratorium.

But, Brown says, “If you live in North Carolina, it’s agriculture and military – that’s our economy. If you don’t protect those two things, well I don’t know what eastern North Carolina will look like.”

Brown says retired generals and other officers, many of whom he claims have reached out in private, fear turbines would devalue bases. He declines to name names.

“They, for a while, had pretty much a gag order – I hate to say it that way, but it’s the truth – to say anything negative about alternative energy,” he says.

One many who denies that characterization is retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, former assistant secretary for energy, installations and the environment with the US Navy.

“We have an open, transparent, objective process that is tried and true,” he says. “I told this to the senators that I met last month in Raleigh. …It isn’t zero sum. It isn’t military bases or wind farms.”

Retired Lt. Gen. John Castellaw, also denies there’s any kind of gag order.

Castellaw says, “We need alternative energy as an element of our national security. …It’s not just about somebody trying to make money. What it’s about also is contributing to the energy portfolio of America and to the security that the energy portfolio provides.”

 

Senators Burr and Tillis support F-35B Growth for Cherry Point

May 22, 2018

 

For Immediate Release: May 22, 2018
For More Information Contact: Marc Finlayson (252) 617-0757

Washington, DC: North Carolina’s US Senators Richard M. Burr and Thom Tillis urged the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate Armed Services and Defense Appropriations Committees to purchase 93 F-35 fighter aircraft during the 2018-2019 federal fiscal year. This request, made in an April 11 letter to the Senate appropriators, would add 16 Joint Strike Fighters to next year’s budget. Senator Tillis is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Personnel Subcommittee. Senator Burr is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The President’s Budget included 77 F-35s for $10.7 billion.

Senators Burr and Tillis joined with 23 of their fellow Senators to urge that funding be increased as part of a cost savings and production effort to ensure that an optimal production rate of 80 F-35As, 24 F-35Bs and 24 F-35Cs is achieved as quickly as possible.  Individual unit costs have come down 60% over the past 11 years, with the goal of a $79 million aircraft by 2020.

“We are pleased to work in close concert with Senators Burr and Tillis and their very capable staffs on this important funding effort,” said ACT President Will Lewis.  “Both Senators have a completely open door policy with ACT and our community leaders on all things Cherry Point.  It is also important to remind ourselves that cutting costs by increasing production is a means to an end to ensure that Cherry Point and FRC-East will remain a national military asset.”

Cherry Point is the largest Marine Corps Air Station in the world, and the planned assignment of 94 F-35B fighters to the station by the mid-2020s will mean that Cherry Point will be home to the largest deployment of Joint Strike Fighters in the Marine Corps.

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