NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev.— The 823rd Maintenance Squadron here recently performed a repair and complete rebuild of an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter fuel probe May 10 – a first for an Air Force helicopter maintenance squadron.
Nearly half of Nellis' HH-60G Pave Hawks were rendered non-mission capable yet flyable due to unusable helicopter air-to-air refueling probes. The faults varied between excessive probe oscillation and fuel internally leaking both preventing safe air-to-air refueling operations.
On average, a replacement probe took approximately 150 days to arrive for replacement impacting both aircraft availability and mission capable rates. Unfortunately, the readiness of the HH-60 fleet world-wide suffered.
The System Program Office and Weapon System Team successfully managed the distribution of the few mission capable probes produced by the repair cycle attempting to maintain a minimum combat capability.
The men and women of the 823d MXS took it upon themselves to explore an organic repair capability. They addressed this problem when more than half of the fleet was not operational because of damaged fuel probes; the Airmen took the initiative to find a solution.
“The fuels shop got approval to pull the probe apart,” said Maj. Jordan Smyth, 823rd MXS operations officer. “This has always been depot level maintenance and that we weren’t allowed to do.”
Working with the SPO Engineers and the WST, the team identified depot level technical data for repacking the refueling probe seals and believed it was well within their capability to perform.
The WST team engaged SPO engineers encouraging the effort resulting in interim field level technical data procedures to complete the task.
With approval to proceed and interim technical data, the squadron's machinists manufactured maintenance stands and the necessary tools from engineer drawings. These allowed the safe disassembly/reassembly of the fuel probes while fuels technicians ordered the required consumables necessary for the job.
Once all items were in place, the fuels technicians went to work with the aid of Quality Assurance and Air Force Engineering and Technical Services personnel.
“The Airmen cut the turn-around time from 30 days to three days by doing everything in-house, saving the Air Force nearly $118,000 in exchange costs per probe,” said Tech Sgt. Alberto Hernandez, 823rd MXS fuel systems section chief.
After three days, multiple conversations with SPO Engineers, and Advanced Composite Material Repairs by the Aircraft Structural Maintenance technicians, the rebuilt probes were installed and successfully tested on the aircraft.
The team of aircraft fuel maintainers detached the probe from the helicopter, disassembled the probe, repaired the damaged seals causing the leaks, then reassembled the probe and reattached the probe to the helicopter.
“Because this was the first attempt at refurbishing a fuel probe at our level, we had to locally manufacture a suitable repair stand and use special tools for the procedure,” said Hernandez.
Smyth said the squadron plans to take the knowledge they learned and pass it on to other Pave Hawk fleets in the Air Force that are facing the same obstacle with the fuel probes.
“The impact that this is going to have on our combat and fleet capability is huge,” said Smyth.
As the premier personnel recovery helicopter, the Pave Hawk is heavily relied upon by the Air Force to conduct day and night operations in hostile environments.
The Pave Hawk owes most of its combat efficiency to its ability to refuel mid-flight using a retractable fuel probe, but if the probe is damaged, the helicopter becomes significantly less capable of performing its diverse mission.
To date, the 823rd MXS has repaired three of the six viable probes, submitted technical data revisions to the SPO, and increased the combat readiness of the 66th Rescue Squadron.
The squadron hopes to have the remaining probes repaired in the next few months.
When complete, the squadron will have saved $590,000 in supply exchange costs and increased Nellis' HH-60 aircraft availability rate by 33 percent.