CHERRY POINT, NC –
A small team of mechanics at Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) keeps the production lines rolling at the aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul facility. FRCE’s Ground Support Branch repairs and maintains the vital ground support equipment used to move aircraft, transport parts, test systems and perform other critical functions that support aircraft production efforts at the depot.
FRCE’s Ground Support Branch is responsible for maintaining and repairing more than 2,000 items of ground support equipment necessary for operations for FRCE’s main facility at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina, and detachments located at MCAS New River, the North Carolina Global TransPark in Kinston, and MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina.
Dependable ground support equipment is a key factor in successful aircraft maintenance efforts, said Don McLean, overhaul and repair supervisor on FRCE’s V-22 Osprey production line.
“Work platforms and stands allow us to do our jobs safely, and we need test equipment to perform functional tests on aircraft,” McLean said. “We can’t do what we do without the equipment and the support we get from the Ground Support Branch.”
Ensuring the equipment remains functional keeps the shop busy. This year alone, the Ground Support Branch is scheduled to perform more than 5,000 preventive maintenance operations to keep the depot’s ground support equipment in working order.
“In this shop, there’s a lot of variety in the equipment we service. We maintain air conditioning equipment, diesel and gas engines, generators, forklifts, carts used to transport parts throughout the facility, aircraft maintenance tools and test equipment—you name it,” said Tim Washburn, ground support supervisor at FRCE. “The common factor is that all this equipment is essential for aircraft maintenance operations.”
The small shop is staffed during all shifts at the facility to ensure that equipment is ready for production work. One mechanic travels between FRCE’s detachments each week to avoid transporting equipment to Cherry Point for servicing.
“We provide regular on-site support to ensure the work continues,” Washburn said. “If our mechanic can fix a problem there without sending the equipment back to FRC East at Cherry Point, it saves time and keeps the equipment in service.”
The shop also provides cranes and operators to FRCE and its detachments, to lift aircraft for transport or remove large components from aircraft. Two mechanics maintain all the straps and slings used for lifting operations.
“We are responsible for equipment used in most shops within the depot,” Washburn said. “If work slows down in one shop, it affects the entire production line.”
FRCE’s Facility and Plant Maintenance Services Division is responsible for keeping track of when equipment is due for preventive maintenance. Equipment is scheduled on a yearly basis, but sometimes that plan has to shift to avoid backlogs in the ground support shop.
“We have to ensure that our preventive maintenance doesn’t create bottlenecks in production,” said Michael Lyon, equipment and facility services specialist. “That’s why we have to be flexible and move schedules around to balance maintenance with workload requirements.”
The addition of next-generation aircraft, like the F-35 Lightning II and the CH-53K King Stallion, to the depot’s workload creates new challenges for support equipment maintainers. Most of the support equipment for these platforms is specific to the aircraft and is provided by the aircraft manufacturer. Equipment that requires major repairs will be sent to the manufacturer, but the ground support team will be instrumental in providing preventive maintenance to this technically advanced equipment. This means that mechanics need to be trained and licensed to maintain these new support items.
“We’ll get new gear that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the base, and we have to send people out to learn to use that gear,” said Marshel Patterson, F-35 logistics manager at FRCE. “They receive training with the Marines that can provide on-the-job training, then teach everyone else to use the equipment.”
New platforms like the CH-53K will also bring new support equipment challenges to the shop, because the support equipment that fits the CH-53E will not fit the larger K model.
“We were told to look at it like a completely different aircraft,” said David Thorpe, H-53 Branch head at FRCE. “It’s a completely different beast than the last generation, and it will bring new challenges to support.”
Support equipment mechanics in FRCE’s Ground Support Branch are looking forward to the opportunity to support the new technologies, according to Clinton Hall, lead mechanic for F-35 ground support equipment at FRCE.
“Since I started in ground support, the job has gotten more technical, more focused on electronics,” Hall said. “I really enjoy the challenge of learning to troubleshoot a new system. For a ground support mechanic, there’s nothing better than putting your hands on the equipment, figuring out what’s wrong and fixing it. When I find a new problem and can solve it so the equipment works like it’s supposed to, I really feel like I accomplished something. I played a part in supporting the fleet.”