Aviation’s WSPM team keeps Navy’s MH-53 flying

By Bonnie Koenig DLA Aviation Public Affairs

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The U. S. Navy’s MH-53E Sea Dragon became operational in 1986 and is the only heavy-lift helicopter in Naval Aviation. Defense Logistics Agency Aviation’s Navy Customer Facing Division in the Customer Operations Directorate in Richmond, Virginia, is part of the team helping keep the MH-53 helicopter mission ready.

“The mission of the aircraft is to protect our national security and foremost to keep the seas safe for our warfighters,” said Eric Monroe, the weapons systems program manager for the H-53 Type/Model/Series (T/M/S) in Richmond.  The Navy’s MH-53E model is similar to the Marine’s CH-53E helicopter, but comes with additional capabilities for airborne mine countermeasures, tow sled mine sweeping capabilities, vertical on-board delivery, and special missions capabilities which require longer range and more precise navigation.

Other MH-53 team members include DLA’s Marine Capt. Sean Crilley, deputy WSPM, and DLA Aviation’s Linda Morgan, logistics analyst. The team manages the consumable items for 30 - MH-53E and 147 - CH-53E aircraft, as well as for the T-64 engines on those models. These consumables are in support of the Naval Aviation Enterprise.

“Currently there are 18 MH-53’s classified as ready-based-aircraft [mission ready], but there are 12 in need of some type of repair, whether it’s scheduled for flight-hour replacement, recall, over-worn, or if the part is broken,” said Monroe. “The overall goal is to get the fleet up to 100 percent mission ready.”

The three top sustainment issues the team is working on for the MH-53 are the main gear box, main rotor head and the sleeve and spindles, which are the main components for the helicopters’ rotary blades.

The WSPM team is staying ahead of procurement of consumable items that support the repair and sustainment of the MH-53 by identifying inhibitors. The team participates in weekly bill of materials (BOM) reviews and team briefings. The team also participates in the triannual critical parts review with their military partners and in the biannual Integrated Logistics Support Management Team reviews, which includes U.S. Naval Supply Systems Command, Naval Station Norfolk, FRC East, Marine Aviation Logistic Squadrons 16, 24, 29, 36, engineers, and industry partners. 

Monroe said the Norfolk Fleet Type Command commander of the T/M/S regulates which aircraft has priority for repairs based on their deployment status. The TYCOM also regulates aircraft flight hours and determines the maintenance schedule based on flight hours and the overall condition of the aircraft.

TYCOM also determines which part warrants an extension. Monroe said that flight time status may indicate the part is up for maintenance, but depending on the condition and number of flight hours the use of the part can be extended.

The team is currently working with FRC East on organically manufacturing the MH-53 sleeve nut, which is a part on the main rotor head and on the sleeves and spindles mechanism. There are eight sleeve nuts on an aircraft: one on each of the seven sleeves and spindles and one for the main rotor head. Monroe said the sleeve nut is about the size of a steering wheel, about three inches thick and made of a combination of metals.

“The plating process is the challenge,” said Monroe. “The sleeve nut is made up of three different types of metals and it requires specific metal-plating techniques. After the nut is made, it is sent to another manufacturer to get one side of the nut plated with a different metal. This situation causes backorders and is one of the areas we are working,” said Monroe.

Another example he gave, required the grounding of the MH-53 fleet because of faulty fuel lines. “In January 2014, the MH-53 had an incident and it was determined one of the fuel lines was defective, so the fleet was grounded for a time until all the fuel lines were replaced,” said Monroe. “These fuel lines had never been replaced and had to be organically manufactured. The WSPM team worked with FRC East organic manufacturing team to make the replacement fuel line to get the fleet back up to mission ready status.”

The MH-53 team is working issues with sustainment partners and a recent example, Monroe said, came up in May when Navy Rear Admiral Dean Peters, the Program Executive Officer for Air Anti-Submarine Warfare, Assault and Special Mission Programs at the Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Maryland sent a request to get an MH-53 (BUNO #162513) aircraft, that had been inoperable for awaiting parts, up by the end of July. Through diligence and teamwork, between the aviation team and industry partners, the aircraft was ready and flying by July 8.

“We have sustained this aircraft’s Main Rotor Head longer than it’s scheduled life of approximately 1,400 flight hours. Some MRH’s have been given up to four flight extensions and some of the parts have never been replaced until now,” said Crilley.

“We are working for our warfighters and knocking down barriers daily to leave no stone unturned to get them what they need,” said Monroe.

Crilley said the MH-53 community is taking a hard look at the Marine Corps Reset strategy which applies a holistic, integrated maintenance process to groom, sustain, and reconstitute Marine Corps aircraft involved in overseas contingency operations, while increasing cooperation among T/M/S program managers, team leads, and team members in support of the MH-53's future Naval operational commitments.  He added, the Marine Corps Reset strategy focuses on maximizing flight line availability and reliability of aircraft, reducing depot backlog and out-of-reporting status time, enhancing the visibility of aircraft material condition, and reducing the burden on organization-level Marines.

“The strategy also focuses on repairing all depot noted-but-not-corrected discrepancies from scheduled depot events, reducing the number of backlogged engineering investigations to ensure safely flyable, high ready-for-tasking aircraft are available for overseas contingency operations,” said Crilley. “Our goal for the H-53E T/M/S, is to provide support and operational commitments to the warfighters and to provide logistical sustainment of the platform through fiscal 2030.”