Undersea Warfare Center Soars into the Wild Blue Yonder Building Aircraft Parts
Navy News Service
Story Number: NNS191118-12
Release Date: 11/18/2019 3:00:00 PM
By Nathanael Miller, Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division, Keyport Public Affairs
KEYPORT, Wash. (NNS) -- The Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division, Keyport is reaching the wild blue yonder building parts for Navy aircraft.
NUWC Division, Keyport is saving the Navy money and keeping its engineers and scientists sharp by designing and manufacturing solid-state gyroscopes for the F/A-18 Hornet and other naval aircraft.
John Miskimins, an electrical engineer in NUWC Division, Keyport's Electronics Engineering Applied Technology Branch, said the project began in the late 1990s when Naval Air Forces (NAVAIR) learned the mechanical gyroscopes used to control certain flight control surfaces on the F/A-18 Hornet were wearing out. One of the problems NAVAIR faced was finding a vendor who could reverse-engineer the old gyroscopes and build new ones for the right price.
"They couldn't get anyone to bid on it for the price they wanted," Miskimins said.
NAVAIR began seeking ways to solve the gyro problem within the Navy. Solid-state gyroscopes were suggested as an option because they have no moving parts to wear out and would be for more cost-effective. NUWC Division, Keyport was one of the organizations NAVAIR contacted.
"We looked at it and saw we could meet the technical requirements," said Miskimins.
NUWC Division, Keyport leadership, however, was reluctant to consider whether an undersea warfare center should work on aircraft gyroscopes. The command's leadership wanted to know if such work would negatively impact NUWC Division, Keyport's primary mission of undersea warfare technology research and development.
"At that point, we were still very torpedo-centric," Miskimins said. "There was some nervousness about whether or not we should even accept this work. We used to make gyros here way back in the day all for undersea stuff, and had a decommissioned gyro area in the back of one of the buildings. We figured out what it would cost to stand up manufacturing the gyro and were willing to quote it."
Once the leadership of NUWC Division, Keyport signed off on the idea of supporting the NAVAIR request, Miskimins and his team began developing the new gyro.
"It was intense. There was a lot of overtime. We ran with a fairly small crew," Miskimins said. His team took the job very seriously. "This is a huge thing. We're going to put new gyros in the aircraft. They're a flight-critical system."
One of the design breakthroughs was the development of a core module that housed all the basic circuitry needed by the solid-state gyro. This core module can be configured to accept AC or DC power. The common core module design proved to be such an asset that NAVAIR began asking NUWC Division, Keyport to develop gyros for other aircraft as well, such as the CH-53 helicopter. The partnership has grown beyond the Navy, and NUWC Division, Keyport now manufactures gyros for U.S. Coast Guard helicopters as well.
The concerns about remaining financial responsible were foremost in the minds of the NUWC Division, Keyport team. Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), NUWC Division, Keyport's parent command, codifies its strategic vision for expanding its advantage in a publication called "Campaign Plan 2.0." One of the campaign plan's pillars is maintaining a culture of affordability.
"An audit was called by the Pentagon to make sure we're not wasting money," said Miskimins. "They took our drawings and looked at what it would cost a local contractor to do the assembly and test, and what Keyport was charging. It turns out we were competitive. Nobody was wasting money doing it here."
Dan Baker, head of NUWC Division, Keyport's Electronics Engineering Applied Technology Branch, said supporting NAVAIR does more than merely save money. Baker said the work is enabling NUWC Division, Keyport to remain positioned to support two other strategic NAVSEA pillars: improving warfighting systems and equipping NAVSEA's talented people.
"The redesigned gyroscopes have greatly improved warfighting systems. Not only has gyroscope reliability dramatically improved, they also perform better and are more accurate. This has created significant cost savings for the Navy," said Baker.
Another benefit is the chance for engineers and scientists at NUWC Division, Keyport to continually hone their skills, better equipping them to leverage those talents when other challenges emerge.
"The gyroscope work has funded countless hours of engineering work at Keyport, which has enabled many engineers to develop and learn vital skills," said Baker. "These skills have then been used in many other areas. This cradle-to-grave experience makes our engineers better designers, which impacts all of the work they do for the rest of their careers. The capabilities that have been established by this effort are tremendous."
Baker said the work for naval aviation has directly benefitted the subsurface community by giving NUWC Division, Keyport continual, first-hand experience in the challenges of reverse-engineering parts. One example is the need to reverse-engineer and manufacture submarine parts that are no longer made by civilian industry.
"We have reverse-engineered or redesigned many components that are used on submarines or undersea warfare systems when these components could no longer be procured," said Baker. "It is exciting to me to be able to provide solutions to these problems and strengthen the capabilities of the Navy."
NUWC Division, Keyport may have gone where no one expected an undersea warfare center to go, but the decision in the late 1990s to begin working with NAVAIR not only saved the Navy money, it kept the technical skills of many engineers and scientists sharp. This has enabled NUWC Division, Keyport to remain an effective part of the Navy's effort to meet the challenges of the 21st century and win tomorrow's fight today.
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