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New aircraft, new problems.

As with any new technology, new aircraft come with new problems. VFA-136 aircrew and maintenance personnel had to deal with numerous such issues during our initial months of operating new Lot 30 Super Hornets.

On five occasions, aircrew heard a high-pitched whistling noise in the cockpit at altitude. Twice, aircrew declared emergencies and flew straight-in approaches. In one event, a loss of cabin pressurization accompanied the noise. In every case, the aircraft had less than 50 hours total flight time, and one had less than 20.

On two aircraft, bungee cords that secured the CPAL netting for the upper equipment bay, aft of the seat, were sitting on the canopy rail. When the canopy was closed, the pressure seal closed on top of the bungee cords, allowing a large gap to form at altitude and causing a loud whistle in the cockpit. The CPAL bungee cords are long enough that the AMEs easily could shorten them.

In three other incidents, a weather seal on the aft portion of the canopy became worn and eventually tore, exposing an orange inner seal that laid over the canopy rail. This failure was unsettling because the weather seals showed wear at less than 20 hours of flight time. Once these seals split, the AMEs had to replace them.

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The seals were tearing along the very aft portion of the canopy. Unless aircrew or maintenance personnel knew to check this location during preflight, they easily could overlook a torn seal.

Another concern was the braking system. Four aircraft, with eight to 40 hours, experienced a similar brake problem. When the pilot first applies the brakes, it seemed like nothing happened until the pedals were pushed in several inches--then the braking action was sudden enough to jolt the aircraft. This condition was more pronounced when the fuel state was low, particularly after completing a flight.

Maintenance personnel properly used IETMs to troubleshoot this discrepancy. It led down several paths, all of which included bleeding the brakes in both normal and emergency modes. However, each time a component was changed (including brake assemblies, anti-skid valves, and bleeding), aircrew had to ground-test the aircraft to ensure the problem was resolved. Despite using all the IETMs recommended troubleshooting, the brake problem persisted.

Boeing tech reps led us in a promising direction. They recommended that we check the tension on the brake cables. Once we verified that the tension was within parameters, we isolated the brake-control valves as the culprits. We replaced these valves and immediately saw results. Aircrew verified the aircraft were free of brake problems.

When a pilot comes into maintenance and describes problems with an aircraft, both the pilot and senior enlisted maintenance personnel depend on a workcenter to understand the gripe and be able to act on it. A subject-matter expert is an invaluable asset, but lack of one certainly doesn't stop the maintenance effort.

Learning the FA-18E through continued use of IETMs, pubs, and tech reps will develop the SMEs who enable the squadron to rapidly diagnose and resolve any discrepancy. Following the pubs on new aircraft can lead you down unfamiliar roads, but perseverance and patience pay off.

CWO2 Paul Hofstad is an MMCO at VFA-136.
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Author:Hofstad, Paul
Publication:Mech
Date:Mar 22, 2009
Words:534
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