May 6, 2016

Armstrong engine shop is one-of-a-kind

Jay Levine
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

Bill McCarty, from left, Enrique “Henry” Hernandez and Rich Souza save NASA Armstrong millions in repairs and inspections that are completed in house.

No matter what the challenge with an aircraft engine, Enrique “Henry” Hernandez at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center Engine Shop can fix it.

Along with long-time engine shop technician Bill McCarty and Rich Souza, the shop at the California NASA center saves millions in repairs for engines that don’t have to be sent to other facilities or to manufacturers, Hernandez said. In fact, other U.S. government agencies and a few international partners have sought help from Hernandez.

The engine shop’s expertise recently was tapped to make sure engines for an Air Force C-17 engine test were ready to go. Called the Vehicle Integrated Propulsion Research (VIPR) program, the engine degradation research included feeding volcanic ash into the engine.

Hernandez and his crew made sure the engines were ready for the research tests by inspecting them on the Edwards Air Force Base ramp with visual inspection cameras called borescopes, he explained. Every night for two to three weeks Hernandez and his crew performed the inspections. They also assisted in some of the modifications and instrumentation of the VIPR engines.

Fixing and maintaining engines offers daily challenges, Hernandez explained. That is especially true at NASA Armstrong, where the center’s fleet of aircraft are diverse and some of the aging powerplants require parts that are becoming harder to locate.

For example, the center flies up to four missions a week on the workhorse Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a NASA 747SP with the world’s largest flying telescope. Keeping up with inspections, maintenance and spare engine parts are some of the ongoing challenges.

In addition, Hernandez and his crew are responsible for the engine inspections and repairs for NASA’s aircraft at Armstrong including the F-15Ds and F/A-18s, used for research and to observe experiments in flight, and a DC-8, Global Hawks and high-flying ER-2 aircraft used for science missions.

The U.S. Air Force Flight Test Center on Edwards Air Force Base in California is a key NASA Armstrong partner. The Air Force shares its capability to tests engines, like this F-100-220, which is similar to the F-404 engines the Air Force tests for NASA.

In fact, before the DC-8 leaves for deployments, the engine shop crew examines the engines. On a recent DC-8 mission to Florida, the DC-8 crew was concerned that the moisture from a hurricane could have caused damage. Hernandez flew down to Florida to determine the condition of the engines. Everything checked out and the mission continued, he recalled.

The shelves of the facility Hernandez operates house components for combustors and fuel nozzles, parts needed for overhaul when the powerplant reaches a milestone number of flight hours, he said. Inspections are completed prior to any aircraft mission and the engine shop has the capabilities to take out and put back together engines and run them in the test cell to make sure they are mission ready.

Hernandez’ team can complete an engine inspection in a day depending on the type, he said. It is required that an engine undergo inspection every 100 hours of operation, where the key components will be inspected with a borescope, filters will be changed and igniters viewed.

“There are always issues where XYZ parts are ordered and we do the work,” he said.

Tim Wright, left, prepares for an engine test, while Henry Hernandez observes. The test cell can handle up to 35,000 pounds of thrust.

However, Hernandez and his crew are up to the challenges. Hernandez worked on engines at General Electric prior to accepting his current position about two decades ago. His knowledge of powerplants is vast, as are his partnerships with other government agencies and industry partners. It is through some of those alliances that he has secured parts at no cost when he has seen opportunities, saving millions in the process, he explained.

A key partnership is with the U.S. Air Force Test Center on Edwards Air Force Base. Hernandez explained he works closely with the Air Force engine staff that is co-located in the same area. Hernandez can bring engines to the adjoining test cell facilities to test engines like the GE 400 engines used in F/A-18 aircraft. Armstrong is the only NASA center engine shop capable of working with that engine, he added. The engine facility can handle the 26,000 pounds of thrust generated when the engine is tested, he said.

Hernandez is willing to share his vast knowledge and occasionally has requests for engineers who want to learn more about the engine shop’s work. In fact, a few years ago there were six-week mentorships where engineers were welcomed to learn how the engines work.

No matter what the challenges, Hernandez and his crew will be ready to meet them.

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