NAVAIR Works to Return Retired Super Stallions to Combat Service to Save Lives on Ground in Iraq - Southern Maryland Headline News

NAVAIR Works to Return Retired Super Stallions to Combat Service to Save Lives on Ground in Iraq

Heavy load helicopters will move equipment by air alleviating need for truck convoys on the ground. This will save many lives since convoys will not be subjected to IEDs and insurgent forces.

By Rob Koon, NAVAIR Public Affairs

NAVAIR Patuxent River, MD—Like the Phoenix renewed, the first retired CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter to come out of the desert was reborn and returned to the fight at Marine Corps Air Station New River June 29.

Marine Heavy Lift Squadron 464, the "Condors," received the aircraft.

This Super Stallion helicopter and two others spent more than 11 years in storage before arriving at the Naval Air Systems Command Depot, Cherry Point, N.C., last August from the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, located at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Ariz. They arrived in pieces, large pieces, on-board two Air Force C-5 Galaxy cargo aircraft.

That’s where the hard work began.

“anything our operational forces can move in-country by helicopter is one less thing that has to go by truck convoy and put Marines at risk of insurgent attack”“The artisans at Cherry Point greatly exceeded the very high expectations we had for them on this project!” said Marine Corps Col. Paul Croisetiere, the H 53 Heavy Lift Helicopter Program manager here. “Our heavy lift CH-53E squadrons have been in high demand for many years, and this project will help alleviate the growing strain on our shrinking inventory of CH-53E helicopters. And from a practical perspective, anything our operational forces can move in-country by helicopter is one less thing that has to go by truck convoy and put Marines at risk of insurgent attack.

“This effort will directly ensure the critically needed heavy-lift capability and logistics support continues to be there when they need it—which is around the clock!” Croisetiere added.

Depot artisans started with rough airframes and refurbished and updated them to the same configuration as current fleet Super Stallions, according to program officials. These updates included adding the Ballistic Protection system to the cabin and cockpit floors, adding the ramp-mounted gun system (GAU-21), the ALE/ALR-47 missile warning and flare/chaff dispenser units and Night Vision Device-compatible cockpits.

Of the eight aircraft originally in storage in Arizona, one has now been returned to service leaving two still in rework and five still in storage at AMARC, according to Marine Corps Lt. Col. Stewart Gold, the H-53 program's assistant program manager for Logistics. Current plans call for two more to be pulled from storage this year.

Originally slated to take 18 to 20 months to return to active service, the first aircraft began ground and flight checks on May 19 and entered the Fleet Marine Force on June 29, seven months ahead of schedule, with the other helicopters following close behind. The first three aircraft regeneration efforts cost a total of $24 million (approx $8 million each). The final two are expected to cost $17 million (approx. $8.5 million each). The last two will cost more than the first three because the best ones were pulled first.

“They are coming along just fine,” said Duane Crow, Super Stallion helicopter production manager. “We certainly have the skilled artisans who can not only do this, but do this ahead of schedule.”

Crow attributes the success of the restoration to the artisans, engineers and logisticians using the tools of AIRSpeed, specifically the Theory of Constraints (TOC). As a management practice, TOC focuses on reducing process time and costs.

“We are using that program with great success on our other aircraft, so we wanted to mirror that with these AMARC birds,” Crow said. “The success of TOC depends on your people being in tune with the program, and that is exactly what we have on the Super Stallion line.”

In 1999, Sikorsky stopped producing the CH-53E, which makes refurbishing AMARC aircraft the only way to add to the total Fleet Marine Force inventory.

“The Super Stallion community is optimizing the available assets to our warfighters by using these as complementary improvements,” said Marine Corps Maj. Warren Bair, Super Stallion program officer at Cherry Point. “The Super Stallion program’s ability to reduce turn-around time has effectively increased the number of aircraft that are mission assignable at the squadron level in the heavy lift community.”

“We're activating these war reserve Super Stallion helicopters to sustain high, hot and long duration heavy lift for U.S. and coalition forces engaged in the global war on terrorism. We haven't lost any aircraft to enemy action, but the harsh and unforgiving natural environment where these aircraft are relied upon for day-to-day logistics and assault support has taken its toll,” said Gold. “We're doing this, as well as some other on-going readiness enhancing strategies, to ensure heavy lift continues to be ready wherever and whenever the Marine Air-Ground Task Force or joint force commander needs it.”

Most aircraft repaired at the depot are currently in service. “Normally we don’t do all the modifications, airframes changes and accessory changes that will be necessary to restore these aircraft to the fleet,” Owen said. The depot will perform twice the amount of work normally required to make an aircraft ready for flight.

The aircraft will be thoroughly evaluated by the Super Stallion production line and depot engineers. If nonstandard repairs are required, engineers will perform an analysis to ensure that the repair is safe. Logistics engineers will acquire the kits needed to make modifications to the airframes changes.

“These aircraft have been out there in the bone yard in long-term preservation for 11 years. Nothing has turned on these aircraft for 11 years so there will be a lot more replacement and repair of components and checking and testing of the components,” Owen said. “We will do special rework and get them up to the latest configurations and ready for all missions in the fleet.”

As the first of the three rebuilt “Echoes” enters the post-rework ground and flight-testing phase, Crow said a painstaking effort, totaling 228 separate inspections, is taken to ensure the aircraft meet all specifications and requirements before leaving the depot.

“Aircraft testing and re-declaring the airworthiness of an aircraft that has undergone a rigorous maintenance evolution is a complicated process,” he said. “It involves not only on-the-ground simulation of as many conditions as possible, but also includes a functional flight test that may require several flights to correct discrepancies encountered during the test phase.”

“This is what the AMARC was designed for,” Crow said. “At a time of need in the Marine Super Stallion community, we are giving them the resources they need to complete their mission.”

“The Super Stallion has a very safe record. These will be very carefully scrutinized as all our aircraft are,” Owen said. “When they leave here, they’ll be as good as the newest ones.”

“Our main goal is to support those Marines out there on the front lines by delivering a quality product to ensure their success,” Owen said.

The aircraft will be assigned according to the needs of the Marine Corps when work is completed at the depot.

PHOTO: CH-53E Super Stallion, Bureau Number 161542, departs from MCAS Cherry Point, N.C., after receiving extensive maintenance upgrades and updates at Naval Air (NAVAIR) Depot Cherry Point. The helicopter had been stored in the nation’s aircraft war reserve at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz, and had not been operated or flown for almost 11 years following its retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps Super Stallion Fleet. The newly refurbished Super Stallion, piloted by Col. J. Mark Reed, NAVAIR Depot Cherry Point commanding officer, was delivered June 29 to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464 at MCAS New River, N.C., to begin another tour of active service with the U.S. Marine Corps. (Photo by David Hooks).

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