News | Dec. 19, 2023

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast Inducts First F135 Power Module, Begins Artisan Training

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) inducted its first F135 Power Module (PM) Aug. 24, one of the five major modules that make up the propulsion system on the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

After being designated as a Department of Defense second depot source of repair (DSOR) for the F135 engine, FRCSE quickly began planning for the arrival of its first PM and future sustainment as a second DSOR.

“The F-35 will be around for a long time, and earning this workload creates a unique opportunity for the depot to firmly assert its place within the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE),” said FRCSE’s Commanding Officer Capt. Al Palmer. “The intent for this engine work is to begin within FRCSE’s Crinkley Engine Facility and then expand as other support facilities are created. Seeing an effort of this enormity come to fruition takes a dedicated team of professionals. Among many other invaluable partnerships, the experts at Pratt & Whitney (P&W) and the Joint Program Office (JPO) were vital to both receiving the work and learning the skills needed to maintain it.”

To support this new engine and its modules, artisans must undergo extensive training. With help from Heavy Maintenance Center (HMC), Tinker Air Force Base (AFB), Oklahoma, and P&W at West Palm Beach, Florida, some training has already been conducted. However, an additional three-phase P&W training and maintenance qualification and certification process, which will enhance and streamline the process for FRCSE personnel, has also kicked off onsite at the command.

The training encompasses classroom and on-the-job (OTJ) experience as artisans learn and familiarize themselves with the PM and its associated mini modules (MMs)—the high-pressure compressor, high-pressure turbine, low-pressure turbine and diffuser combustor.

“Many different competencies will be involved with F135 training,” said Carl Cuppy, FRCSE’s Business Development Office Engine Lead. “Mechanics, inspectors and quality assurance personnel will all participate in the training. During this time, groups will develop the muscle memory necessary to overhaul the F135 power module successfully. Each group will perform multiple iterations of disassembly and assembly with the support of Pratt & Whitney training specialists.”

While the process will be rigorous and lengthy, it’s a vital part of gaining the necessary proficiencies. Fortunately, all personnel undergoing the training are seasoned experts with aircraft engine experience —having worked on platforms like the F414 and F404, the muscle behind the F/A-18 Super Hornet and Hornet respectively, the TF-34 which powered the Air Force’s A-10 Warthog, and the J52, which was used in the EA-6B Prowler.

The first two training phases will focus on classroom and practical skills. The first was approximately two weeks long and taught artisans P&W’s digital management system for the engine.

During OTJ, or the second phase, artisans will begin working with the PM, its MMs and each subcomponent. P&W trainers will work side-by-side with FRC Southeast personnel.

“The Power Module is its own specialty, and each mini module is its own specialty,” said Chadwick Boyd, FRCSE industrial engineer and F135 capability establishment team member. “Artisans will specialize in a mini module and only be tested on their specialty. However, there will be opportunities to cross-train.”

OTJ will be broken into each MM’s subcomponents, with completion of each of the four areas contingent on the amount and complexity of its subcomponents. Completion dates for each MM training are expected between February and April 2024, and the PM training will conclude by June 2024.

Once the classroom and practical OTJ phases are complete, qualification and certification will be the final step. This involves a collective skills assessment, in which P&W evaluators will determine whether the command can achieve Initial Depot Capability (IDC). As part of the assessment, artisans will be required to completely disassemble and reassemble the power module without guidance or assistance. Earning the IDC will demonstrate that FRCSE can perform all maintenance actions on this specific section of the F135.

“The first power module will be disassembled into mini modules, or sub-assemblies, used for training on those specific components,” Cuppy said. “The second power module will be used for the disassembly and assembly training for the PM. Both PMs will be assembled into production units and eventually installed in F-35 aircraft within the international enterprise.”

The second F135 PM was delivered to FRCSE on Aug. 28.

IDC assessment for MMs are scheduled between September and October 2024, and between March and April 2025 for PMs.

FRCSE has optimized space in its Crinkley Engine Facility complex to make room for the F135 product line, but that is far from all that the organization is doing to support this large-scale effort. After certification, F135 artisans will conduct the MM and PM work in designated areas within the facility called “cells.” The long-term plan is to have nine PM cells and 22 mini module cells.

As the program ramps up in the coming years, the command will build new facilities via military construction (MILCON) projects to support the increased workload.
“FRCSE is in the design review process for a state-of-the-art 250,000-square-foot MILCON facility constructed specifically to house the F135 maintenance shops and support personnel,” Cuppy said. “Further, we expect our local (engine) test cell project to be commissioned by this time, which will allow FRCSE to become a one-stop-shop for F135 maintenance, repair and overall.”

Cuppy said the command anticipates engine production to ramp up through 2034 to the maximum production requirement - equivalent to about 600 MMs and 120 PMs annually, correlating to about 600,000 man-hours.

“We will start regular inductions in 2024, and we expect to have every component of the F135 Navy and Air Force variants by 2029,” Cuppy said. “During that time, we will begin training for the fan, augmenter and nozzle modules.”