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During fiscal year 2021 alone, the team hit a historical landmark by delivering 106 aircraft safely back to the Fleet while conducting a total of 319 flights, encompassing 580 flight hours of mishap-free flying.
These advances in aviation safety don’t go unnoticed. Efforts like these and dozens of others earned FRCSE the 2021 Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Aviation Safety Award, a coveted annual recognition that’s awarded for outstanding strides in professionalism, commitment to excellence, leadership and teamwork – collectively resulting in mission and operational readiness. The depot has earned this award 15 times since the late 1990s.
FRCSE is Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, providing four of every ten jobs in Jacksonville’s manufacturing arena. It conducts work on aircraft like the T-6 Texan, T-44 Pegasus, H-60 Sea Hawk, F-5N Tiger II, F/ A-18 Hornet and more. Each specialized, training or tactical aircraft that undergoes maintenance at the command requires ground checks and functional check flights (FCF) before it returns to the Fleet. These checks ensure each aircraft is safe for flight.
“Reaching almost 34,000 flight hours of Class A/B mishap-free flying takes significant work, dedication, and extreme attention to detail from every member of our workforce,” said FRCSE’s Commanding Officer Capt. Grady Duffey. “The entire command takes immense pride in ensuring the warfighter always has the highest quality product and does so by putting our aircraft through an extensive series of tests to establish safety assurances and component reliability. We pride ourselves on safety, and it’s just another level of excellence that has come to be expected from FRCSE.”
The test flight process has zero room for hiccups, which is apparent through FRCSE’s impressive safety track record – 54 years of mishap-free flying.
“We’re able to perform safely because our team at all phases operates in a way that allows us to do so,” said Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Fields, FRCSE’s Aviation Safety Officer. “A single artisan has the potential to have a huge impact on an aircraft’s ability to operate safely. Every employee at FRC Southeast accepts that ownership, allowing us to do what we do.”
Once maintenance work has been completed on the production floor, the aircraft transfers to ground check, but not without a series of meetings that verify every t is crossed and i is dotted. Dozens of eyes review checklists and logbooks to confirm the bird is ready for transfer.
Ground checks are precisely as they sound – they verify that the aircraft is safe and ready for flight testing. Ground checks take a magnifying glass to every part of the aircraft. While most of the time, this process takes only a few days, occasionally, the pros will discover a new issue that hasn’t been documented on the aircraft before.
“We have specifically trained personnel known as Aviation Systems Inspectors (ASI) that are qualified to check various systems such as engine run parameters, avionics, flight controls, environmental control systems (ECS), communication and navigation systems,” said Chad Cox, FRCSE’s flight test director. “They also service the aircraft tires, struts, hydraulic systems, and oil and oxygen systems. These aircraft go through a full workup of tests before being considered safe for flight.”
But ground check safety isn’t complete without additional oversight from the plant’s ordnance and a parachute riggers division whose primary function is to check things like the aircraft’s ejection seat, canopy fracture system, as well as things like oxygen masks, survival kits, life rafts and other systems that are essential for a pilot’s safety.
After an aircraft has cleared initial testing, the command’s Maintenance Control shop and QA go back through the paperwork. Everything associated with the aircraft, including each component’s operational limits, scheduled inspections and even logbooks that track flight hours, are verified and checked for accuracy before scheduling the aircraft off for an FCF.
Once the FCF date arrives, there is additional paperwork that needs to be checked, and one of six FRCSE test pilots, trained in multiple aircraft, walks through a visual inspection of the bird on deck.
Various system functionalities are checked, such as avionics calibration, weight, the aircraft’s balance, possible foreign object debris and life support equipment.
Finally, after the aircraft has passed all phases, it’s time to cut through the clouds.
“The vast majority of our flying is FCF and deliveries,” said Fields. “Occasionally, we may fly for pilot proficiency or training, but it typically coincides with a confidence flight. The second flight ensures the consumer gets the best product because we can double-check proper functionality.”
To the spectator on the ground, it might just look like a glittering piece of metal in the air, but to the folks at FRCSE, it’s a beacon of the hard work they’re happy to labor for because, to them, nothing is more vital than ensuring every military pilot has a piece of machinery that is flight worthy.
“We can certainly take this moment to reflect on the excitement that comes with earning an award of this caliber, but we will continue to forge forward into the future by readjusting our sails and evolving our safety measures to exceed the Fleet’s needs,” said Captain Duffey.
About Fleet Readiness Center Southeast
Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) is Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, employing approximately 5,000 civilian, military and contract workers. With annual revenue exceeding $1 billion, the organization serves as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy, Naval Air Systems Command, and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers by maintaining the combat airpower for America's military forces.
Point of Contact: Anthony Casullo, Public Affairs Officer: (904) 790-4749
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