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A test cell Marine from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 11 Power Plants monitors an engine test before the engine is returned to another squadron for use.

Photo by Cpl. Deanne Hurla

Power Plants keep Navy, Corps jets flying with engine repairs

8 Jan 2010 | Cpl. Deanne Hurla

When a car breaks down, it goes to a mechanic. But when a Navy or Marine Corps F/A -18 jet engine needs repair, it goes to one of three facilities in the world, one being Marine Air Logistics Squadron 11 Power Plants Division at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

MALS-11 has 120 Marines, sailors and civilians working to maintain engines of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and squadrons throughout the Department of the Navy.

Power Plants mechanics work approximately 70 hours per week to keep the work flow smooth in the Power Plants Section, explained Chief Warrant Officer 4 Dennis Johnson, the officer in charge of MALS-11 Power Plants, 3rd MAW, I Marine Expeditionary Force. They produce 20 working engines per month, which breaks down to approximately one engine per day.

“There is always one engine available,” said Johnson. “This enables the squadrons to keep training.”

The mechanics maintain a steady work flow by breaking the process into sections that form a kind of assembly line.

The engine is broken down into six modules, explained Cpl. Christopher Smith, a collateral duty inspector for the Power Plants’ engine shop. The engine shop inspects the engine, tears it down and sends the parts that need to be fixed to the different shops.

These shops send working parts to the engine shop so they can build the engine back up and send it to the test cell for testing. The squadrons receive engines back once it passes all the required tests, he added.

The module shop works on five of the six pieces. These include the fan, high-pressure compressor, combustor, high-pressure turbine and low-pressure turbine, explained Cpl. Preston Rose, a collateral duty inspector for the module shop.

Mechanics examine each piece for cracks and dents, and break it down to fix it if there is something wrong. A common defect is rough edges on fan blades, he added.

Mechanics file the groves until the blades are smooth.

Instead of going to the module shop, the final piece goes to the afterburner section.

The most common problem with an afterburner is cracks in the thermal coating that keeps the engine from catching fire, explained Sgt. Jason Goldsberry, a collateral duty inspector for the afterburner section.

The afterburner section either sends the afterburners to a welding shop or sends them out to a repair shop, depending on the size of the crack.

After the engine shop receives refurbished parts they can replace bad parts in an engine and send it to the test cell for a performance test.

“During the test we look for leaks, monitor temperatures and vibrations and make sure everything operates within regulations,” said Cpl. Heath Keller, a collateral duty inspector and test cell operator.

The engine must not exceed vibration and temperature limits during the test. Test cell operators also check for leaks, make sure there are minimal flakes from the main components and check engine pressure ratios, he added.

Operators can change some components, but if they can’t the engine fails the test, operators send it back for repairs.

The test cell may be the last seal of approval for the engines, but to take these engines apart and put them back together the mechanics need special tools to accomplish their job.

Tool room mechanics keep track of specialty tools such as the control precision measurements equipment, but also ensure the proper disposal of hazardous materials and provide safety equipment, explained Cpl. Alejandro Ramos, a tool room Marine.

The tool room supports the entire division, without it the mechanics would have less time to work on engines because they would be busy accounting for tools, he added.

Fuel tank mechanics also provide support to the Power Plant mainly by working with their sense of touch.

There are two holes in the side of the fuel tank that allow mechanics their only access to the gauges inside the tank, explained Cpl. Eric Weiner, the fuel tank assistant work center supervisor. Mechanics test the gauges to make sure they are working and transferring fuel correctly.

Marines and sailors in the Power Plants division rotate to each section to get the experience they need working on the engine. This also allows for senior leaders to pass on knowledge about more efficient ways to complete a task.

MALS-11 keeps their “assembly line” running smoothly to ensure the continued support of local squadrons and those in the fleet.

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3rd Marine Aircraft Wing