News | Nov. 12, 2020

DLA Aviation instrumental in keeping Navy aircraft safely secured during rough sea operations

By Leon Moore DLA Aviation Public Affairs

It takes skills and nerves of ice for a Navy pilot to take off and land an aircraft on a ship’s flight deck, essentially a miniature airfield, that is pitching, rolling and yawing in rough seas which these ships operate in. This feat poses a whole different set of challenges for helicopter pilots when they are called upon to meticulously hover over and securely set the bird down on a much smaller landing area of a destroyer, vice the almost four football field length of an aircraft carrier.

And when it lands, flight deck crews must be able to safely secure the aircraft to the ship’s deck and transfer them to the hangar bay. This is where the Recovery Assist, Secure and Traverse system comes into play. Used by the Navy on its Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the RAST uses a cart to perform these duties while underway.

To address these issues, the Navy turned to Defense Logistics Agency Aviation in Richmond, Virginia, for support in recognizing the environmental issues and the cost to the fleet for repair.

According to Eric Petran, who heads up the Technical Support Division at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Hawaii, RAST operations have significant maintenance issues that create cost and environmental impact to the Navy.

“We are dealing with very complex issues, and it is imperative to gather a diverse team in order to assure a sound technical approach is undertaken,” Petran said.

He said the RAST track plates are the foundation on which the carts rides. The nearly 2-ton cart causes the steel plates to be exposed to the weather and saltwater corrosion, which causes a cascade of maintenance issues including reduced lifespan of the adjacent nonskid surface.

“The RAST plate coating begins to fail within two months of RAST operation and leaves the steel plates exposed to the environment. The bare steel exposure causes unsightly rust staining to the surrounding deck area and washes overboard, causing further staining at the scupper drains,” Petran said. “As the RAST nonskid coating breaks down, the coefficient of friction reduces, impacting sailor safety and greater potential for slipping on the deck.”

Moraima Lugo-Millán, chemist, DLA Aviation’s Engineering Directorate’s Hazardous Minimization and Green Products Branch, headed up the efforts to provide environmental issues and cost support.

“I highly recommended this project for approval and funding due to its great potential on reducing hazardous materials, fleet maintenance and operational costs while accelerating platform/system readiness,” she said.

As the project manager, Lugo-Millán receives and conducts technical reviews of proposals submitted by the Navy, recommend projects, creates the funding documents for the projects, follows up with the financial and technical aspects of the projects, visits the shipyards and Fleet Readiness Centers to track progress and inspect.

She said once assigned the RAST project, she flew out to Hawaii back in Dec. 2019 and toured the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, as well as met with the shipyard engineering, environmental and safety supervisors, as well as shop foreman’s and port engineers responsible for identifying the issue. 

“This product validation and qualification project has the significant potential to progress corrosion control for use on Navy ships by providing a green/sustainable alternative for the repair process that eliminates liquid and solid waste streams, grinding of heavy metals and reduces hazardous waste, disposal costs, and safety risk to applicators,” Lugo-Millán said. “It will also significantly reduce maintenance costs and logistics delays associated with RAST systems while extending service life.”

Lugo-Millán said the new coating is anticipated to have a significant service life span advantage, thereby reducing operational and maintenance costs and that the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., estimated that the cost savings/avoidance would be $26M over an 11-year period for the 62 DDG’s in the Navy’s current fleet in lieu of current expenditures of $53M over the same time period.

The project is currently in the field-testing stage and products will be assigned National Stock Numbers, considered environmentally preferable, stocked, managed, cataloged, and offered for sale as such by DLA.

Petran said this green initiative will be paying dividends, not just for the Navy, but the environment as well, for years to come.

“With the ever-increasing numbers of people visiting the state every year and the continual environmental challenges brought on by a myriad of factors, it is important to me that we have a partner like DLA Aviation to help preserve the environment of Hawaii for future generations.”