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F135 depot focus is on training

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Training, maintenance qualifications and certifications are the current focus of activity on the F135 jet engine depot being established at Tinker AFB.

The F135 is the power plant for the F-35 Lightning II jet fighter that's scheduled to replace the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

According to Mike Hill, Pratt & Whitney's Operations Manager of the F135 Heavy Maintenance Center, mechanics from the 544th Propulsion Maintenance Squadron began simultaneously demonstrating and training in mid-September on F135 Joint Technical Data and depot-unique support equipment.

Before a mechanic begins working on the engine, the 76th Propulsion Maintenance Group and Pratt & Whitney review applicable joint technical data (JTD, the technical orders that define how to perform maintenance on the F135) and prepare work packages for the mechanics to follow.

P&W generates the work packages in Solumina, software that's linked to P&W's SAP shop floor and material control system. "These step-by-step instructions tell the mechanics which tasks to perform and the sequence they must follow to repair a module," said Teri Bauman, F117/F135 Training Leader/Instructor in the 544 PMXS.
"We are taking a draft of the technical data and going through those steps," said Mason Hopkins, F135 Depot Activation Program Manager, 76th Propulsion Maintenance Group.

The mechanics and P&W inspectors/trainers "work closely during demonstrations to suggest and capture proposed changes to the JTD," Ms. Bauman said. The Joint Strike Fighter Program Office reviews and approves all changes to JTD, Mr. Hill said.

PMXS mechanics will receive additional training opportunities "as they repeat JTD demonstrations with the updated technical data, and then perform process certification audits to qualify the depot," Ms. Bauman said.

"We are working toward certifications that will allow us to repair the engine modules," Mr. Hopkins said.

A $10 million F135 jet engine was delivered to Bldg. 3001 at Tinker AFB on Sept. 14 to help mechanics perfect their skills in the assembly and disassembly of the components. The engine weighs 3,750 pounds and is 18.3 feet long.

Initially there will be 12 front-shop "capabilities" in the F135 depot. Capability Group 1 is assembly and disassembly of the entire engine; Capability Group 2, disassembly of the fan module; Capability Group 3, the power module; Capability Group 4, the gearbox; and Capability Group 5, the augmentor and the exhaust nozzle. Capabilities 6-12 include assembly and disassembly of the mini-modules, as well as various module subcomponent processes.

The current plan is for Tinker to achieve certification on Capabilities 1 and 2 by May 2013, and to certify on Capabilities 3-12 by the end of the next year, Mr. Hill confirmed. "This will give us front-shop capability by the end of calendar year 2013," Mr. Hopkins said.

After certification is achieved, "We will start repairing the engines," Ms. Bauman said.
According to Wade Wolfe, chief of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex Business Office, "We should be testing engines by late FY2013 or early FY2014."

Tinker personnel and Pratt & Whitney officials expect Tinker to have back shop initial repair capability by CY2016. "There is detailed analysis and more complex variables involved in establishing the back shop repairs," Mr. Hopkins noted.

Tinker has seven mechanics in the F135 depot program, under the tutelage of P&W trainers, but the number of mechanics will increase as the volume of work grows, said Joe Minor, F135 Shop Supervisor, 544 PMXS. Ms. Bauman said the mechanics who are training now will become trainers for other employees.

"We are laying the building blocks for all the F135 depots around the world," Mr. Hill said. Tinker is "on track to be the first depot."

Tinker will be "the F135 depot for the Air Force," Ms. Bauman said. At least initially, the Department of Defense plans to have two domestic F135 engine maintenance depots: at Tinker and at Fleet Readiness Center Southeast, Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. Fleet Readiness Center East at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., will be the domestic lift system depot, and domestic F-35 airframe depots are planned for Hill AFB in Utah and at FRCE in North Carolina, Mr. Hill said. The locations of international depots have not been determined yet, he said.

The new maintenance depot here is a public/private partnership between the Air Force and Pratt & Whitney.

All of the necessary industrial plant equipment, including a balance machine, has been installed in the 33,000 square-foot area in Bldg. 3001 that has been reserved for the F135 maintenance depot, Mr. Hopkins said. Shop floor space will nearly double to about 60,000 square feet in Phase 2, "but may be modified in accordance with future workload levels," he added.

The shop also will have carousel stackers, and kit carts equipped with "all the tools and equipment a mechanic will need to work on a particular module," Mr. Minor said. The shop will be equipped with almost 600 tools, records indicate.

Work benches and tool boxes will be set up soon, Mr. Minor said. Three overhead "bridge" cranes capable of hoisting weights ranging from two to five tons are expected to be installed in late January.

Historically, Mr. Hopkins said, the Air Force has had three levels of maintenance for F100- and F110- series jet engines: operational level maintenance, performed where the aircraft is stationed; intermediate level repairs, performed at a few select bases; and comprehensive depot level maintenance such as that which is done at Tinker.

The F135 engine, though, will have only two levels of maintenance: operational and depot. Consequently, "We expect to do more work," Mr. Hopkins said. "And, in contrast to the F100 maintenance concept, all of the F135 engine testing will be done at the depots." F135 engines will be tested in the south "T-9" test cell that's under construction outside Bldg. 9001.

Tinker will repair and test three variants of the engine: the F135-100, for conventional takeoffs and landings; the F135-400, an aircraft carrier model; and the F135-600, for short takeoffs and vertical landings.

The maximum thrust of the F135 is rated at 43,000 pounds, which is approximately 50 percent higher than the F-16's engine. It's also 20 percent greater than the F101 engine, which powers the B-1 bomber and which is Tinker's next most powerful jet engine.
The "vast majority" of Tinker's workload on the F135 will be on modules, not whole engines, Mr. Hopkins said. Consequently, several sets of "slave modules" will be kept here.

After being repaired, every fan and power module must be tested to confirm that it meets performance standards, Mr. Hopkins related; slave modules will be needed to build a fully assembled engine, he explained. After a successful engine test, the repaired fan and/or power module will be shipped out "while the slave modules will remain in our shop area for the next engine test run."

The U.S. government previously announced it would order more than 2,000 F-35 aircraft, because it is slated to be employed not only by the Air Force but also the Navy and the Marine Corps. The Air Force will activate first and the Navy will follow "within a couple of years," Mr. Wolfe said.