Major construction project nears completion, final checkout at Arnold

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A major Engine Test Facility-focused renovation and maintenance project at Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) is nearing completion and checkout ahead of a heavy ground test schedule in August.

A primary focus of the project involves replacing a number of cooling coils in the Aeropropulsion System Test Facility's RC1 Cooler, the largest of the facility's three pressurized air supply units that dry and cool air to provide the required conditions simulating flight at altitude and at sea level in the jet engine test cells, including C-1, C-2, SL-2 and SL-3.

"This effort will allow AEDC to operate until the next phase of an improvement which is still several years out," said Navy Commander Frank Moulds, 704th
Maintenance Squadron commander.

Commander Moulds said the next phase of the project will improve the test effort and allow the center to introduce new technologies that will be more environmentally friendly. He emphasized that the current maintenance project, especially on the RC1 Cooler, is a vital part of the ongoing effort.

"The RC1 Cooler is one of those critical systems we have to continuously maintain to ensure it is available when required to meet our test customer's needs," said Warner Holt, deputy branch manager of plant operations and maintenance for Aerospace Testing Alliance. "It is also a one-of-a-kind system.

"The RC1 Cooler is showing wear after 25 years of service, and it's not a system that is easily maintained - the components are heavy and bulky - you can't just go out and buy these parts off the shelf when they need replacing."

Center Commander Col. Art Huber was among three of the center's senior leaders who recently suited up with personal protection equipment to check on the progress of the project.

Colonel Huber, Col. Raytheon Scott, commander of the 704th Maintenance Group and Col. James Joliffe, commander of the 704th Test Group, entered the RC1 Cooler in full protective gear and traced the steps the craftsmen take on a daily basis to get a feel for the challenges they are facing.

The experience of climbing vertical ladders, climbing across narrow mezzanines in cramped quarters and climbing back down scaffolding in a tight space was revealing.

After exiting the cooler, Colonel Scott said, "I now have a much greater appreciation for what the craftsmen are experiencing on this job."

Cold air is necessary to simulate high altitude conditions and the air must be dry to prevent icing and condensation from severely damaging test equipment and jet engines during testing at those conditions. The RC1 Cooler supports engine developments and upgrades for all U.S. fighter aircraft and is the only place in the world to conduct full flight envelope testing for F-22A Raptor and F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter-class engines.

According to Holt, the RC1 cooler and supporting work to the high stage compressors and other components is being managed as a scheduled system outage.

"We've got this narrow window of opportunity to accomplish all this work that needs to be done," he said.

Holt said the work on the RC1 Cooler presents the most significant challenge of the project, especially when all of the other work on supporting systems and components is added to the workload.

"We've done this all in-house labor supplemented by Jacobs Industrial Services, Inc., craftsmen," he said. "This project takes a lot of our people to get the work accomplished, including engineers, schedulers/planners and craftsmen. All must work together toward a common goal to meet the tight schedule.

"They've also been doing a lot of significant preventative maintenance work on ETF's airside and exhaust-side compressor rotors - all of that complicates a project of this scale. The key to our success is our world-class craft work force.

They have overcome challenge after challenge on this project."

The maintenance project is only meant as an interim step pending approval for a $120 million project to repair the existing RC1 Cooler, according to Kent Lominac, the deputy director for the 651st Test System Squadron.

"AEDC has exercised an aggressive program to keep RC1 operational and this latest maintenance project has been critical to the success of that effort," said Kirk Rutland, deputy director of the 704th Maintenance Group. "However, the repair and maintenance costs have more than tripled in the last few years. Also, the maintenance reliability of RC1 has decreased significantly over the last decade."