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FRCE wraps fly-in maintenance on Harrier jets

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS190926-11
Release Date: 9/26/2019 3:10:00 PM

By Heather Wilburn, Fleet Readiness Center Public Affairs

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (NNS) -- Fleet Readiness Center East marked a maintenance milestone August 15 when a tug pulled a completely assembled AV-8B Harrier to Marine Attack Training Squadron 203. The departure marked the completion of the last U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B inducted at FRCE for Planned Maintenance Interval 1, which was the 121st AV-8B PMI-1 since the depot inducted its first in June 2003.

Moving forward, FRCE will perform PMI-D service on the platform. This means the aircraft will arrive to the depot already disassembled - with the wing and engine removed - and will leave the same way. For PMI-1 activities, the aircraft fly in and out of the depot.

The change comes as the Navy begins phasing out the AV-8 aircraft program, said Ike Rettenmair, the AV-8 and In-Service Repair branch head at FRCE. An Italian Navy AV-8B scheduled to fly out in mid-October will be the final PMI-1 Harrier to leave the depot.

"This is the new way forward. We won't have any PMI-1 aircraft, but we'll still get special rework AV-8s, crash-damaged AV-8s for example, or we'll send our artisans out for squadron work via in-service repair," Rettenmair said. "We'll see opportunities like that come up on occasion, and we'll be the support facility for those instances, in addition to the PMI-D work."

"It's the end of an era," said Bob Henke, an aircraft task manager working with the AV-8 Harrier program at FRCE. "The shift is based on the eventual drawdown on the AV-8 platform, and the transition to the F-35. The AV-8 is still a valuable asset, but this is how the cycle works: retire an existing platform and start a new one."

FRCE currently serves as the only depot providing PMI-1 service to AV-8B aircraft. Following the delivery of the Italian AV-8B, both FRCE and FRC Southwest will provide solely PMI-D service, with some special exceptions. Once FRCSW concludes its AV-8 service in 2021, FRCE will be the single remaining facility conducting depot-level service to the platform.

The depot is scheduled to continue PMI-D for the AV-8B through 2026. Rettenmair said the workload forecasts have FRCE maintaining the existing pace of AV-8 inductions, receiving the current number of aircraft per year through 2021. While the number of inductions remains the same, the total workload is reduced; a PMI-D requires a little less than half the man hours needed to complete a PMI-1.

As the AV-8 program gears down, some members of the workforce will stay on the line to continue providing support for the remaining AV-8B aircraft flown by the Marines and allied nations. Other aircraft maintenance professionals have been reassigned to work in areas requiring additional manpower, including the F-35, V-22 and H-53 aircraft lines, and various aircraft component shops.

The portable skills developed by the workforce make them a real asset to the depot, because they can support whichever programs the fleet needs them to, Rettenmair said. Although the reassigned aircraft maintenance professionals are retaining their jobs at FRCE, leaving the AV-8 line can be bittersweet because they feel a strong sense of loyalty to the program.

"We have a great group of folks here that have been with the (AV-8) program for a while, and they love what they do," he explained. "The AV-8 program is a tight-knit program, and we take a lot of pride in what we do. We understand the big picture - you have to move on to bigger and better things, eventually.

"We've still got a little way to go here, and I'm grateful that I've been part of this," Rettenmair continued. "Sitting at home and watching an AV-8 fly over, it gives you a great sense of pride."

FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,200 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $720 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.

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