Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Up The Hanger Queen

The most dreaded words we could hear in my little shop while I was in the Navy. The S-3 Vikings did not enjoy a high priority for repair of avionic parts by the Intermediate Maintenance Activity on board the ship. Historically, the S-3 replaced the S-2 Tracker which had been deployed on the old CVS carriers. The CVS carriers were smaller aircraft carriers that were used pretty much for ASW, they operated in Hunter Killer packages that included Destroyers and only a few types of aircraft. The S-2 did the hard work of finding the target, A-1D's and later A-4 Skyhawks were employed to provide protection and to give the CVS some teeth. They also had a Helo squadron that did ASW as well. But as things in the Navy changed so did the thinking on ASW. The CVS's were all decommissioned and the S-2's were moved to work from the decks of the much larger CVA's, the Attack Aircraft Carriers. These were the top of the line carriers that we operate today.

The S-3 followed in to that CVA environment, an environment that is dominated by the Strike and Fighter community. If you did not go fast or carry a lot of bombs you were nobody in the CVA. Since the threat that the S-3's were employed to defeat was invisible for the most part, no one in the Strike/Fighter side cared. We were a necessary evil on and around the boat.

This was also reflected in the repair of our parts up in the Intermediate Maintenance Activity or IMA. The concept at that time was that boxes of avionic gear would be removed at the Squadron level and shipped (hand carried) to the IMA (usually through the supply system which would check to see if any were actually in stock waiting for issue) for repair. Here they used a system know as VAST and HATS to repair the equipment inside the box. The VAST concept was based on a large test stand that could be re-configured to accommodate pretty much any box that came to it and then using software which was loaded in for each part, the VAST station would diagnose the problem. Bad circuit cards were pulled out and fixed separately and then returned for re-test in the original box with the VAST station.

This is all well and good on paper. Application however is another story. In most cases the VAST stations were pre-configured to run parts for either the E-2 or the Strike/Fighter aircraft. Most of the boxes that came in for the S-3 were put aside to wait until there were no more boxes needing repair for the A-6's, A-7's, the F-4 and F-14 (when we got them). Most carriers had three VAST stations and one was always down for parts that were stripped to keep the other two VAST stations operating.

So, within the S-3 community, we got by using the time honored method of: Cannibalization.

Yes, we always had at least one aircraft that was parked in a quite out of the way place in the Hanger Bay and methodically stripped of parts to support the rest of our little air force. Sometimes it would be two aircraft down there missing so many parts that they would actually be hard to climb into because the weight on the shocks would raise the airframe up on the landing gear.

It was that bad.

So, every now and then, we would hear those words "Up the Hanger Queen" and we would crap our pants. Most of the time it would be my shop, the Electronics Branch (Work Center 210) that had the most parts stripped out of the Hanger Queen. Sometimes more than 50 individual boxes would be missing from the Queen. And for whatever reason that maintenance control deemed necessary we would have to pull all those parts out of a almost perfectly good flying aircraft and move them into the Queen.

Now, most would think that this was an easy process, simply plug in boxes into empty holes but, if it was really that easy anyone could do it and that was not the case. Each time we had to "work" the jet back to life, sometimes using up even more parts than the sacrificial aircraft had in it, making the problem worse for the other Queen. And it took many hours. We would in fact have to detail almost the entire shop to the effort of bringing life back to the Queen.

These orders always came at night while they were fleshing out the next day's flying schedule. Sometimes this was triggered by rules and regulations, the Navy had a surveillance program on all their aircraft. If any single aircraft was out of service for longer than 90 days the aircraft would be moved into a list that got visibility way up the chain of command. SPINTAC or "Special Interest Air Craft" was to be avoided like grabs or clap on liberty. And the bane of SPINTAC was that we were always cycling the Hanger Queen up to keep it out of SPINTAC, simply transferring the problem and starting the clock on a different aircraft. No one wanted to bite the bullet, let the NAVAIR HQ guys come down and ask why was that aircraft down so long, no one wanted to throw the blame back on the core of the maintainability issue. So, till the day the S-3 left service we lived with cannibalization.

Which bore the following patch, which some of us wore with pride!

Not the most politically correct patch especially in today's 'enlightened' times but back in the '70's and '80's it was how we lived.

BT: Jimmy T sends.


Buck said...

Cannibalization was the ultimate no-no in the radar biz... one had to go to division level for permission before you could do it. (Our aircraft control and warning [long range defense] radars were assigned to radar squadrons, who reported to numbered Air Divisions) More often than not we would eat downtime and go Not Operationally Ready - Supply (NORS) for a few hours or a day, rather than cannibalize.

And USAF was serious about that stuff... I saw guys get Article 15s for cannibalizing a down radar without permission ("they'll never know!" - right.) to get something else running... for failure to obey a direct order and all that. The flying biz is different... I know from SN1's tales that USAF owns Hangar Queens, too.

JimmyT said...

Buck, I am sure that was the case say down in the Reactor Compartment, they would not take parts off Reactor #1 to keep Reactor #2 operating, they'd have the priority to get the parts out of supply outright or have them fixed. No so in the air coprs, we even had an ink stamp that allowed us to stamp our paper work (the mulit-part forms) so we had stacks of blanks already filled out, all we needed were part and serial numbers to clear the admin side. It was a racket.

Bt: Jimmy T sends.

Ed Murray said...

Ohhh you had to know I was going to comment on this one. Speaking as one of those VAST guys. I can affirm that on the Med Cruise of 79 on the Ike, we did have 4 techs solely dedicated to S-3A box repair. Seeing as I was one of them. But in some ways you are correct in stating that the higher ups delineated what was priority to be fixed. If it was an upcoming Strike package well the F-14's and E2's were priority and we took a back seat. As for VAST itself, hmmm where to first instinct to say in defense of all the S3-A guys would be that the tolerances built in to the program for testing were too strict. 1 1/100th of an ohm would not seem critical to one. But you know as well as I do, when you are a QAR/CDI (Quality Assurance Rep/Collateral Duty Inspector) you cannot overlook the little things. One on my biggest gripes is actually the Navy Supply procurement process. Hell if we were inport I could probably get parts at Radio Shack to fix many issues,I know I have UUT's (Unit Under Test) that wound up being held in supply for the whole cruise awaiting a circuit board. When the CLAMP (Closed Loop Aviation Maintenance Program) was introduced we thought maybe just maybe things would work better. Yeah right the bureaucratic red tape machine chugged on. So here I am thowing my 2 cents in as a Proud Vastard !!

JimmyT said...

Ed, you are right, I was expecting a stern and vigorous defense of VAST, from You. I do think that it was a good concept and I understand that the S-3 boxes had connector densities (number of contacts on the back) that the other aircraft boxes did not have. So, setting up to run an S-3 box was a long and arduous process and thus sometimes (more often than not) the S-3 gear sat waiting for an in-port period. I do think it goes back to putting a dedicated VAST on the ship for the S-3 or moving some of that diagnosing capability out onto the Jet itself. You know as well as I do, we could find some problems in the acoustic processor that VAST could only guess at. If we were allowed to move SRA’s at the O-level in the box and process only the cards themselves (which we did in other boxes on the aircraft re.: the Computer itself and the Display Generator Unit, when we had them) I think we could have had better support all around. But, that was not the concept at the beginning and it was going to take a “God” to change that.
Thanks for the comment, always fun to hash this stuff out with someone that was there with Me at the time!

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Ed Murray said...

Actually the issue was not in dedicating a system solely to one type of aircraft, it more likely stemmed from the fact of what VAST was and how it was built. For the readers that think I am talking alien ha, VAST was known as a Versatile Automatic System Test otherwise known as ATE or Automatic Test Equipment. The concept behind VAST was as follows, lets take any and all test equipment used in troubleshooting and compartmentalize it into whats known as Building Blocks. Now we wire all that up to a Huge systems of relays that will direct signals through the proper interface device to the UUT and gets it reply back the the building block for further analysis by an onboard computer program designed for that particular unit you are troubleshooting. Herein lies the issues, these building blocks were comprised of things like O-Scopes, Multimeters, Time Generators, Power Supplies Freq Generators etc. And just like their standalone counterparts, they also are in need of frequent calibration. So if you have 3 fully built VAST stations and 1 mini station, who is to decide what platform gets to use the functional one ? Just as you say Jimmy cannibalization existed at the aircraft level, but unbeknown to others it existed even at the IMA level. Many times building blocks were removed from systems to support the "HOT Ticket" item of the week. So us poor little Hoover techs were shunned for the Tomcat fleet. Ohh sure its loads of fun troubleshooting and ICS control box or the APU control unit. But its much more fun digging in a memory drum unit or an armament control panel. So there lies the story from the IMA side of the house, yes cannibalism existed among us all ;-)

Barco Sin Vela II said...

Great memories, these Special Interest Aircraft! Don't forget the test flight (FCF) these POS's had to do be "Up". For some reaseon, I always got to be the Test Crew Dude...

JimmyT said...

Ed, good response, I think I mentioned in my original post that usually one VAST station was down giving up its parts to the others. I would guess there was a limit on some of the specialized test gear too and that would hurt as well. Thanks,

Barco, yeah those brave souls takeing a jet out right after it was a Queen for a long time were brave, especially while we were at sea. We were lucky, never had problems except once, on a fly-off after a cruise. No one wanted to baby sit the Queen all the way to Norfolk and then see it off-loaded to the peir and then towed to the NAS. We are talking a few days extra before coming home. So this one fly-off we held the jet untill we were close to home, I think the JAX based helo Squadron had the only remaining aircraft besides our "Christine". We did the ole, pull the flags off the landing gear pins, but left the pins installed because we weren't sure they would work, we also hot wired the ICS so the two-man crew could talk, not to eachother but to ATC. This was what we called "No Downing Girpes on a Fly-Off" and that bird made it to Cecil. Brave pair in that one.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Ed Murray said...

Was that LCDR Rule taking that bird in ? God I remember the time we were 3 days out of Norfolk and the Bingo field was Cecil, Mr Rule accidentally on purpose jettisoned the spare fuel pod and had to go to the Bingo field..hmmm...

JimmyT said...

Ed, that was Hulse, he did all our really tricking flying. But the Major was a good guy, he was my Div O for a long time.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

tom said...

I am an old ex-supply puke that was there when the Viking was the 'new kid on the block' and the Tomcat was the hottest thing this side of ____.
We were the ship that came alongside off RVN and provided food, mail, spare parts and gedunk. If we could get it at Subic, we would bring it out to you guys.
After hearing the tales of Queens (we had 2 CH46's to ferry un-rep on pendants), I feel for your pain.
I always thought that the Stoof was more appropriate for ASW than the S3, but Congrefs likely disagreed as their constituents built the dang things.
I see things remained the same after I went back to civlant. SNAFU.
It is hard to write goals that do not lead to un-productive behavior. I think that some in the Pentagon were trying, but ran into the "you will be on a new assignment before you get me to change one thing" attitude of the GS-XX employees.
There is need for a good sweepdown, fore and aft...

JimmyT said...

Tom, actually the S-3 was a suburb ASW aircraft, the problem was that integration into the Fighter-Attack community. I can remember during our first cruise, we had tons of avionics issues on every flight when we flew the same mission profile as the rest of the Air Wing, that 2-hour recover after launch routine (now because of the poor fuel endurance of the F-18 that is even less time in the cycle). But when we were tasked as part of National Week exercises to go out and actually defend against submarines and they allowed us to schedule OFF the Strike schedule and fly the 4 to 6 hour mission profiles, we not only found Sub’s but we had a lot fewer discrepancies. In fact an aircraft would fly all day without an issue, maybe log as many as 12 hours in a day without a gripe. This meant that the crew workload on the 2-hour flights was such that they did not have time to ‘massage’ the systems to make them work and that led to us doing maintenance that we did not have too. But as soon as those exercises were done, we went right back onto the Strike schedule and we flew those crappy 2-hour missions. Stunk all around. Thanks for the comment, come back often.

BT: Jimmy T sends.