Artisans at Fleet Readiness Center Southeast in Jacksonville, Fla., are taking their work on the Air Force’s HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter to new heights.
What began as an inter-service agreement for the Navy command to perform basic 600 flight-hour inspections on the Air Force birds, morphed into in-depth overhaul and repair – known as joint depot-level maintenance.
“The Air Force shopped around, and we had an excellent reputation for our helicopter program over the last 18 years,” said H-60 line supervisor Mike Worthington. “They decided to start out with those inspections and see how that went.”
The first Pave Hawk touched down at the facility on the west bank of the St. Johns River on a sunny September morning in 2015 from Moffett Federal Airfield, California to receive a routine 600 flight-hour inspection. It was delivered back on time and on budget, as well as the second helicopter the facility received.
“After those first two birds, they decided to give us the responsibility for the joint, depot-level maintenance,” Worthington said.
Where the 600-hour inspection is a basic maintenance phase that involves changing fluids and replacing components, joint depot-level maintenance is a complete structural inspection and, if needed, overhaul.
There are now Air Force HH-60s in FRCSE’s vertical-lift hangar beside Navy SH-60 Sea Hawks. The helicopters are similar to the Navy’s Sea Hawk, on which the artisans usually work, but not identical by a long shot.
“There is a learning curve, even though the motors and other parts of the airframe are the same,” Worthington said. “The tail structures are very different, so they have different bushings, fittings and fasteners than the Sea Hawk.”
The differences in the aircraft are derived from their disparate missions and platforms. The Sea Hawk is made to operate off ships, with an easily foldable rotor blade and tail structure. The Pave Hawk is a land-based search and rescue helicopter that boasts an air-refueling probe to extend its range when needed.
Yet FRCSE artisans are quickly becoming accustomed to the differences, both major and subtle, Worthington said. Learning the intricacies of the aircraft is crucial, because more are on the way.
The Air Force has tapped the facility to be one of four providers of depot-level maintenance for the aircraft until at least 2022.
“We’ll be getting roughly four Pave Hawks per year at our facility through 2022,” said Bruce Camps, the facility’s HH-60 Program Manager. “Every aircraft that comes here, we’ll do the depot-level maintenance, the 600 flight-hour inspection and also whatever modifications the Air Force needs to have done.”
In addition to the work being done in Jacksonville, eight FRCSE artisans are also traveling the globe performing modifications at various Air Force bases.
“They were in Japan, England and now they’re going to several different airfields in the U.S.,” Camps said. “These guys are rolling.”