News | Sept. 7, 2023

FRCE Marks First with Adoption of Battery-Powered Ground Power Units

Fleet Readiness Center East’s (FRCE) UH-1N Huey production line is swapping out diesel-powered ground power units (GPU) for a sustainable alternative with the recent purchase of battery-powered GPUs, becoming the first adapter of this technology within the Naval Aviation community.

According to Allen Broadway, FRCE’s UH-1N branch head, the battery-powered GPUs minimize energy consumption, increase efficiency and enhance workplace safety.

“Our main focus was on the safety and environmental aspects,” Broadway said. “Using the new battery pack, you are reducing noise hazards. Because it’s so portable, you’re reducing the possibilities of strains and injuries, as well as trip hazards. All this leads to a safer workplace for our people. It also allows us to reduce environmental footprint and fuel consumption. You’re not burning diesel. There are no fumes or emissions. You’re cutting costs. It’s a win for us across the board.”

The UH-1N line operates out of the North Carolina Global TransPark in Kinston. There, the team performs maintenance, repair and overhaul operations for the UH-1N helicopters flown by the Air Force.

Prior to the arrival of the battery-powered GPUs, the UH-1N line relied on the NC-10C Mobile Electric Power Plant, a trailer-mounted, self-contained power plant, to supply electrical power for servicing, starting and testing the helicopters. The NC-10C, used throughout the Naval Aviation community, uses diesel fuel to generate electricity.

“When you look at the environmental impact, this is our way of going from a gas guzzler to electric,” said Matthew Pitts, the UH-1N deputy branch head and test pilot.

According to Pitts, the UH-1N line began using two Tesla TI3000 GPU-24 battery packs in the spring.

“They are a self-contained unit that can do everything that the NC-10 does, but with a footprint of a large carry-on bag,” Pitts said. “They produce no noise and no emissions. They work like an external battery pack for your phone and even plug into an ordinary wall socket. There’s no special outlet required.”

The battery-powered GPUs weigh in at 127 pounds, compared to the NC-10C’s weight of more than 6,500 pounds when carrying the diesel fuel necessary to generate power.

“It came in a really big box,” said Gabriel Rodriguez, a plane captain on the UH-1N line. “But, when we opened it, it was just this little thing inside. It’s much easier on us, as far as ergonomics go, to move this around.”

Pitts cited that small size as a key factor in the UH-1N line’s decision to adopt the technology.

“One important aspect of this is minimizing our footprint,” Pitts said. “You’re taking a large entity, the NC-10, and you’re reducing that to the size of a carry-on bag. You’re reducing the costs and time associated with moving, maintaining and using that asset.”

Sean Maher, an aircraft electrician on the UH-1N line, said the portability and simplicity of the battery-powered GPUs have already made a positive impact on production.

“We do a lot of operational and functional checks which require battery inverter power,” Maher said. “The helicopter battery itself can’t sustain the amount of checks we do. So we have to have some sort of additional power source to continue our checks without having to stop what we’re doing.  That used to mean calling transportation and getting an NC-10 delivered.

“With these, it just takes a minute or two to roll it over to the aircraft and we’re hooked up for power,” he said. “Hooking it up is quick and easy. As far as maintenance, we’ve had no trouble with them and we’ve put them through the wringer. With the NC-10, we’d have to call ground support equipment if it needed to be fixed. We don’t have to worry about any of that with these.”

The battery-powered GPUs are also making a positive impact outside of the UH-1N line’s operations at Kinston. Broadway said their use drives down costs related to the support and maintenance of the NC-10Cs.

“These free up our ground support equipment folks from having to do preventative maintenance and things of that nature on the NC-10s,” Broadway said. “It also reduces the costs related to ordering parts and materials to maintain and repair the NC-10s.”

Unlike a diesel-powered generator, the battery-powered GPUs emit zero emissions. Broadway said this results in reduced energy consumption.

“If you crank an NC-10 indoors, you have to open up the hangar doors,” Broadway said. “That means increased utility costs and wasted energy, especially when it’s cold outside.”

The battery-powered GPUs also contribute to the comfort level on the shop floor in regards to noise levels. Pitts recounted the first time the team used the battery-powered GPUs; he described being almost startled by the complete lack of noise that accompanied it.

“The first time that we connected it to the aircraft, it was just kind of funny because we were all expecting some kind of a big, climactic moment,” Pitts said. “Silence is what we heard. It was like, that’s it—silence. It was so quiet that it was almost a surreal.”

Pitts said the battery-powered GPU’s silent operation belies the impressive benefits the technology has brought to the depot, benefits he said can be shared throughout the enterprise.

Text Box“We are setting new standards to drive down production costs, reduce our environmental impact and ultimately be a safer line,” Pitts said. “Once the depot proves that we’re leading the way with this, I can see this getting pushed out into fleet. Imagine the savings and the reduced environmental footprint that we could have throughout the Navy and Marine Corps.”