Keeping The F-18 Flying

How the NavAir Advanced Measurement Systems and Reverse Engineering Lab Keeps F-18's Flying

Called the birth place of naval aviation, the United States Naval Base at Coronado Island, San Diego, CA (NBC) provides a shore-based platform for 16 helicopter squadrons, 2 fixed wing squadrons, two aircraft carriers, four SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) Teams, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command squadrons, and other air, surface and subsurface commands. The huge base is also home to the Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW), which overhauls, repairs, and modifies Navy and Marine Corps front line tactical, logistical, and rotary-wing aircraft and their components. FRCSW aircraft programs include repairing and returning to the Fleet F/A-18 Hornets, E-2 Hawkeye early warning aircraft, C-2A Greyhounds, SH-60 Seahawk multi-mission aircraft, Marine Corps AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, UH-1 Huey general purpose helicopters, CH-53 Sea Stallion heavy lift helicopters, AV-8B Harrier VTOL aircraft, and the EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft. FRCSW is also the sole Navy repair site of the LM-2500 turbine engine, which is used to power the Spruance-, Aegis-, Ticonderoga-, and Perry-class surface ships. FRCSW’s Components program has the capability to repair more than 11,700 unique components used on Navy and Marine frontline tactical and support aircraft. But until recently the command had a problem with reverse engineering components for the aging F/A-18 Hornet, carrier-based fighter jets. “The problem was, and is, that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is slow coming on board,” says Gabe Draguicevich, engineering technologist at FRCSW’s NAVAIR Advanced Measurement Systems and Reverse Engineering Lab. “The F-35 is supposed to replace the F-18, but it’s behind schedule. The result is we’ve flown the F-18 longer in more combat missions than it was originally designed to do. Components wear out and have to be replaced, which is the problem we have to deal with here. Considering the huge price for a new F-18, the Navy elected to repair and rebuild whenever possible.”

Reverse Engineering Problem

Originally built by McDonald Douglas, the aircraft was transferred to Boeing when that company bought Douglas. “The problem is that a lot of changes made on the floor at Douglas never made it into the drawings,” Draguicevich says. “On top of that, the transition of the drawings to Boeing was unevenly done, so that left FRCSW, in many cases, to figure out how to build parts either with no drawings or lessthan-up-to-date ones. Another problem was that no one at the lab was really up on using the latest 3D modeling techniques, which added difficulty to the job of reproducing worn parts and components needed to keep the older aircraft flying.” The solution to the reverse engineering problem came when Draguicevich, himself, was recruited by FRCSW. “It was almost as if I had been in training for the job here at the lab,” he says. “Prior to joining the lab, my career had covered a lot of territory. I had worked as a machinist, as a programmer, in software development, 3D modeling, laser scanning, manufacturing engineering, quality control, reverse engineering, you name it. I was working for Ernie Husted at Verisurf when I was asked to come on board here.” How did he happen to be recruited? “I was a representative for Verisurf software at the time,” he says. “I was at a conference in Dallas talking about using 3 dimensional models and model based definition in reverse engineering and manufacturing. After my presentation, I was approached by a gentleman by the name of Chris Root, who is the lead of a group here at North Island called the Advanced Aircraft Technology Team. He was excited about what I had said about using 3D models and Model Based Definition. He said, ‘Hey, I really need to talk to you. Do you ever get out to San Diego? If so, I’d like to show you what we do in support of Naval Aviation and learn more about your software’s capabilities and how it can help our efforts. Think you could do that?’ I said, ‘Sure. I have to be in California soon anyway, so I’d be happy to come to San Diego for a visit.’ That was two years ago, and I’m still here.”

Manufacturing Model Managerment System (3MS)