A broken grinding machine and a phone call is leading to an emerging partnership between the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center Southeast in Jacksonville, Fla., and the Air Force’s Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex to get the Air Force’s venerable F-15s back in the air faster.
Just before Christmas, bearings failed in the grinding machine used to manufacture F-15 stabilator spindles at the Warner Robins, Ga., facility.
“The machine we use to grind down the beryllium copper bushings on the spindle went down,” said Steve Bachelor, director of WRALC’s 572nd Commodities Maintenance Squadron. “There were no parts to be found in the commercial industry or in the Department of Defense, so we had to have them made.”
For WRALC, which performs fleet support and depot maintenance for the F-15, the failing machine was a hefty blow. The F-15 remains the most pervasive air-superiority fighter in the Air Force’s arsenal, and demand is high.
“We were virtually at a standstill. Starting this week, it would have impacted our F-15 depot maintenance line because we wouldn’t have had stabilators to put back on airplanes,” Bachelor said. “It would’ve delayed getting F-15s back to squadrons.”
The search wasn’t an easy one for the Warner Robins team.
“We looked all over the country for a grinder that would be suitable to do this before we found FRCSE,” said David Wright, a work lead machinist for the Warner Robins depot.
On a tip from a mutual partner, the Defense Logistics Agency, Bachelor turned to FRCSE.
“Warner Robins contacted us and said they needed help,” FRCSE Business Management Specialist Julio Williams said. “They called several commands looking for a similar grinding machine and we said we could help them out.”
On March 4, Process Engineer Keith Jones and Machinist Philip Trauth showed up at Naval Air Station Jacksonville with eight spindles to be machined at FRCSE. But with different branches of the military, different programs and different machines, they also needed artisans with experience.
FRCSE Machinist Rizal Encarnacion is doing the hands-on work of grinding the spindles. He served 20 years in the Navy and has worked as a civilian machinist at the Jacksonville depot for another 20.
“Rizal is at the top of outstanding machinists,” Jones said. “These are the kinds of people you need. It’s those little nuances from 40 years of experience that really help out.”
FRCSE completed the first group of seven spindles March 5. The WRALC crew brought another 17 down March 7 and worked 12-hour shifts with FRCSE personnel to finish the job.
“This has been a huge support effort and assist by the Navy in helping a sister service,” Bachelor said. “I can’t say enough about FRCSE and Julio Williams in particular for what he did and his sense of urgency to make this happen.”
However, WRALC won’t be the only beneficiaries of the new relationship. A leadership group from FRCSE visited Warner Robins on March 2 to see how the Air Force facility may be able to assist the Navy in a similar fashion.
“They offered their facilities if we had work that we could send them,” said Major Nimock, FRCSE industrial, manufacturing and process integrated product team lead. “It’s really a good idea to find another site in case, next time, it’s our machine that goes down. We should all work together like that.”