NAMCE’s Efforts Lead to Increased Operational Readiness
From Strike Fighter Wing, Pacific Public Affairs
F/A-18F Super Hornet Bureau Number (BuNo) 166464 waited a long time to get back into the fight. Largely due to constrained Navy budgets, the jet contributed some of its parts so that others could fly and deploy. In the meantime it sat idly on the NAS Lemoore flight line for eight years, having last flown on 29 January 2012. Some wondered if it would ever fly again. Now the Super Hornet is back doing what it was built to do, roaring through the California skies and helping train replacement aircrew as part of the VFA-122 Flying Eagles. BuNo 166464 is not alone; several other long-term downs (LTD) have been returned to service as Lemoore enjoys a readiness renaissance—more Super Hornets are flying now than seen in more than a decade.
A key player in this readiness recovery is a new maintenance center for excellence specifically designed to eliminate the LTD aircraft. In a small corner of Lemoore’s flight line sits a 73,800-sq. ft. tension fabric structure. Inside that air-conditioned makeshift hangar, maintainers expertly rebuild Super Hornets and ready them for return to fleet squadrons for operational use. Six fully equipped maintenance stations enable this massive undertaking, which has proved vital to maintaining operational readiness in today’s high operational tempo environment.
Less than two years ago, Naval Aviation, and specifically the VFA community faced a seemingly insurmountable problem. Due to many years of heavy operational requirements, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets were breaking quicker than expected and stressing the supply system to the limits. Squadrons dealt with LTD aircraft that consumed hangar space and man-hours. In June 2018, the equivalent of more than five fighter squadrons of aircraft sat on the flight line at Lemoore unable to fly, severely limiting aviation readiness and creating an increased burden on operational maintainers.
Enter the Naval Aviation Maintenance Center for Excellence (NAMCE), Lemoore, a Naval Aviation Enterprise initiative established in July 2018 as a detachment under Commander Strike Fighter Wing, Pacific Fleet (CSFWP). Its goal is simple: Take LTD aircraft, reconstitute them into flyable assets and return them to the fleet.
Transferring LTD aircraft to NAMCE relieves operational squadrons of the burden of maintaining them, allowing those squadrons to focus on accomplishing their missions. Meanwhile the highly trained maintainers at NAMCE are ideal for the task of restoring those aircraft to mission capable (MC) status. At its inception, NAMCE inducted 66 LTD aircraft from the Lemoore flight line and set to work.
The process of rebuilding an aircraft that has not flown in years is no simple task. First, they are assessed to identify what level of work they require. However, NAMCE does not have the space to fix all of them at once. According to CDR Michael Windom, NAMCE’s officer in charge, “Up to six aircraft at a time are in the process of being rebuilt, or ‘in the oven’ as I call it. The rest are given level two preservation to prevent further issues while they wait in line.”
Each aircraft has its own unique requirements and challenges to overcome in order to be restored to flight status. NAMCE maintainers strip the aircraft down during a detailed assessment process to ensure nothing is overlooked. Because of the nature of LTD aircraft, in addition to the original maintenance concerns fuel cell leaks, environmental system issues, corrosion and worn seals are often discovered. It is a painstaking process, but in NAMCE’s first year it returned 11 aircraft to the fleet, averaging 183 days per aircraft to rebuild.
In summer 2019, NAMCE, in conjunction with Boston Consulting Group, fully reassessed its processes and procedures. Through some adjustments to the build flow, a remodeling of the production control center, the establishment of the parts control center and an aggressive allocation of available skills, NAMCE has reduced the average rebuild time to 67 days. “This three hundred percent increase in production has resulted in extraordinary cost savings,” Windom said, with more jets returned to fleet squadrons under this expedited process.”
NAMCE’s efforts are already paying dividends. Of the 66 aircraft initially inducted, 16 have been rebuilt and returned to service, and six more are in CDR Windom’s “oven” receiving work. As CAPT James Bates, CSFWP commodore, said, “In less than two years NAMCE has gone from a concept to the successful reconstitution of over fifteen long-term down Super Hornets, enabling the Naval Aviation Enterprise to achieve and sustain the Secretary of Defense-mandated mission capable rate for the Super Hornet. This was truly a team effort with all stakeholders as everyone aggressively leaned in to turn the NAMCE vision into a reality.”
Commodore Bates added that the acceptance of the LTD aircraft enhanced the abilities of both VFA-122, the F/A-18 E/F Fleet Replacement Squadron which had dozens of LTDs, as well as Lemoore’s depot, Fleet Readiness Center West (FRCW), to help produce more MC jets.
“The successful execution of NAMCE’s mission, returning LTD aircraft to the flight line, allows VFA-122 to focus on training enlisted maintainers and the production of replacement aircrew and FRCW to focus on aircraft planned maintenance intervals in support of flight line readiness,” Bates said. Although NAMCE’s task is far from complete, the more efficient processes in place will enable the remaining aircraft to return to service ahead of schedule. NAMCE’s unprecedented success is a testament to its Sailors and maintainers. The skies around Lemoore are buzzing with more flyable jets and it is due in part to the unsung heroes at NAMCE, who one by one are reducing the numbers of LTD Super Hornets and getting them back into the fight.