New equipment improves FRCE support of critical V-22 component

William Touchette, a pneudraulics system mechanic at Fleet Readiness Center East, prepares to run acceptance test procedures on a V-22 swashplate actuator, using a new test stand developed in partnership with the actuator’s manufacturer. The new test bench has cut testing time in half, and will soon allow FRCE to release functional swashplate actuators directly into the supply chain, thereby helping boost aviation readiness for the V-22 Osprey.

New test equipment at Fleet Readiness Center East has positioned the facility to help alleviate one of the top degraders to V-22 Osprey readiness.

The new test stand, which checks the functionality of the V-22 swashplate actuator, cuts testing time in half to produce “ready for issue” components for the supply chain. The swashplate actuator is a flight-critical control that guides the aircraft’s rotors; with the component’s presence on the V-22 degrader list, every day it is in process counts.

“Getting this bench here into production has been high on my priority list, and it’s already making a difference in our throughput,” said FRCE Commanding Officer Capt. Mark E. Nieto. “Now we have the equipment; if we can overcome challenges in the supply chain, I know our artisans can do even more.”

The swashplate actuator’s position on the degraders list drove the push to stand up the new test system at FRCE, said John Hinson, head of the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Engineering Test Equipment Engineering branch. The legacy test stand — the V-22 hydraulic actuator test stand, or VHATS — doesn’t allow FRCE to declare ready for issue (RFI) status on the tested swashplate actuators. Actuators that passed testing at FRCE have to be sent to Moog, the component’s original equipment manufacturer (OEM), in order to receive the RFI declaration. A public-private partnership with Moog will change this process.

“There were some accuracy limitations with (the previous test stand) that required us to send the swashplate actuators back to the original equipment manufacturer before they went back into supply and back into the fleet,” Hinson explained. “One of the big benefits of this test stand is that Moog, the company that built this stand, is also the OEM for the swashplate actuator and will be using this exact same stand. We’ll be testing on the exact same test stand, running the exact same software as the component OEM.”

Using the same setup as the OEM will eliminate any discrepancy in test results and should allow for much easier comparison, Hinson added.

“As far as testing consistency and ensuring we’re testing exactly how the OEM is testing; there’s no question there,” he said. “The fact that we were working with the component OEM gave us a better product in the end.”

In addition to improved accuracy, the new stand also mitigates concerns regarding throughput and capacity. The new stand produces time savings in the testing itself and — because it tests the V-22’s flaperon and elevator actuators, also manufactured by Moog — it frees up the VHATS system for testing other components.

“This test stand is very good for the V-22 platform,” explained Travis Lowe, components program manager in MRO Logistics at FRCE. “It lowers our run time for testing in half, allowing the depot to have more throughput on swashplate actuators. It also takes the workload off the VHATS stand so we can increase throughput on other V-22 valves and actuators.”

William Touchette, a pneudraulics system mechanic at FRCE, said he has seen the test time reduced by almost half. Acceptance testing procedures, which took a minimum of six hours on VHATS — and sometimes longer — can now routinely be completed in under three and a half hours.

“Running the actuators on VHATS, I could maybe get one tested out in an eight-hour period, if it was good,” he said. “Now I can take two and test them out in that same eight-hour period. If we have the parts and can build them, that’s almost doubling our output.

“It’s a resource that we needed, with the swashplate actuator being one of the top degraders for V-22,” Touchette continued. “Any time you can use the same test bench that your end item manufacturer is using, and you’re getting the same results, that’s a good thing.”

Pneudraulics system mechanic Shane Qualls agreed the new test stand has improved workflow. He’s noticed a general increase in throughput all around.

“The process is much more streamlined, and tests run more smoothly. I love the stand — I wish we’d have had it a long time ago,” he said. “It gets that workload out of the tester’s hands, and back into assembly or disassembly much more quickly. It actually produces more workload for everybody else in the shop.”

Getting the test stand operational at FRCE required an all-hands effort, with players from across the board. While processes ranged from procurement to installation to calibration, and challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic sometimes made for slow progress, the goal remained steady: make a difference in naval aviation readiness.

“Everyone on this team here — facilities, production, engineering and the Fleet Support Team — did a great job getting it set up and running,” Nieto explained. “They had to jump over a lot of hurdles to get to where they’re at, and they did it. I’m really proud of them.”

FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $900 million. The depot generates combat air power for America’s Marines and naval forces while serving as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.