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Small shop, big job: Modular repair center keeps aircraft flying

Michael Pittman connects a 14,000 lb. weight to a hoist in preparation to stress test a transport trailer at McChord Field’s Module Replacement Center March 31. Photo by Abner Guzman

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Many people may not realize it, but there is a little known section of hardworking Boeing employee's right here on McChord Field. They make the sure the C-17 Globemaster III continues to fly by keeping the 62nd Airlift Wing well supplied with replacement engines and the support equipment needed to install them.

"The C-17 just wouldn't fly without us," said Mr. T.J. Medina, Boeing Product Repair Technician. "We serve the Air Force with engines and we make sure Airmen have the tools they need to install them safely and correctly."

With six employees to boast, most of them retired military and long-time mechanics, the MRC houses up to 18 of the $7.5 million, fourteen-thousand pound, Pratt & Whitney F-117 engines. About 13 ready for installation engines are currently in the MRC, waiting to be installed locally or transported by air or land to another location in the world.

"The engines and support equipment are always ready to be deployed to any location in the world," Mr. Richard Collins, Modification Project Specialist said.

Engines are overhauled or repaired at two depot locations; either at Pratt & Whitney, Cheshire, CT or United Airlines in San Francisco, CA. From there, the newly overhauled or repaired engines are transported to their respective bases.

Having the engine is great, but how do they store, move and install such a large and expensive piece of equipment?

"C-17A engine transportation trailers," Mr. Medina said. "The engines are stored and transported on these trailers. When an engine change is required the team will deliver it directly to the customer. An engine change requires an engine change package consisting of an F-117 engine two transportation trailers with cradles, a C-17 engine lift trailer, two power cables and power distribution box."

When the equipment is ready for pick-up the customer will call and we will pick-up the gear and prepare the engine for shipment, and inspect and prepare the support equipment for the next engine change, he added.

The lift trailers are designed to lift the engine up onto the wing of the aircraft, where maintenance technicians can properly secure it. Most of the support equipment for an engine change is provided by the MRC.

The MRC has 43 transport trailers, eight lift trailers; each equipped with a hydraulic and electrical system that aid in lifting and lowering the trailer when installing an engine. Not counting the engines themselves, the MRC has nearly $36 million of support equipment.

MRC technicians oversee the day to day maintenance and repair of all the support equipment. This includes trailers, cradles, tools, and power cables. They also make sure engines are positioned to be issued and installed when needed. They also have the ability to prepare an engine for transport via aircraft to any location in the world.

"We service the Pacific Rim bases, to include three west coast bases, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska and all the way to Amberly Royal Air Force Base, Australia," said Mr. Collins. "We've have also shipped engines and support equipment to Canada, Qatar, and Hungary."

Because the trailers are so vital, each and every part of the trailer is inspected after each use and on a scheduled periodic basis. Every 180 days, 365 days and 730 days the transport trailers are inspected, with a set of procedures and checklists to follow.

"The trailers themselves are a pretty sophisticated piece of equipment," Mr. Collins said. "As with most things it requires preventative maintenance to ensure it will be around for the long haul. As custodians of the equipment the team takes great pride and care in ensuring everything is clean, working and in good condition so the customer and taxpayer will get the most for their buck."

"Sooner or later most every hose, cable, hydraulic and electrical piece is taken apart, inspected and reassembled," Mr. Medina added.

Technicians at McChord Field's MRC also travel twice per year to inspect the trailers and equipment being housed at other bases.

"We not only assist in ensuring McChord's C-17s fly, but also other bases' aircraft as well," said Mr. Collins. "The MRC is a very busy shop."

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