Changes at Corpus Christi Army Depot

by Lawrence J. Simone

Facilities and operations at Corpus Christi Army Depot have changed drastically during the last decade.

Each time I read the latest issue of Army Logistician, I am amazed at the number of changes taking place across the Army in preparation for the 21st century. It seems that each article details changes in operational units, major commands, support organizations, and training centers. At Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD), Texas, the Army's only aeronautical depot-a facility valued at $600 million-we, too, are making exciting and dynamic changes.

A description of the organizational, technological, and facility changes CCAD has experienced over the past decade would require multiple articles. Instead, let me take you on an imaginary guided tour of CCAD, and you will "see" the changes for yourself.

If we were to get into one of our recently overhauled AH-64 Apache helicopters and view CCAD through the million-dollar infrared visionics at a 500-foot hover, we would see a vast industrial plant of 154 acres located at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas. We would see some new construction as well as renovations to almost every other structure.

We will begin on the ground by entering the new, spacious, 15-bay pre-shop analysis and aircraft disassembly building. This is where aircraft are disassembled and inspected as part of the overhaul process. Next to the Army UH-60A Black Hawks we find an Air Force MH-60 Pave Hawk, a CH-47D Chinook, an AH-64 Apache, some AH-64A Longbow pre-mods, a few Navy UH-1N's, and a crash-damaged OH-58D Kiowa. Here, a visitor also can see a computer mapping and scheduling system that will order materials, track parts and components through the various shops, provide work instructions, and predict work completion times. This is far different from the old days of a dimly lit, greasy disassembly hangar bay crowded with UH-1H Hueys, AH-1S Cobras, and OH-58A's.

Leaving the disassembly area, we walk outside and into the main assembly hangar of Building 8. Over the years, this has been transformed from a fast-moving Huey assembly production line to a dock stage area for the Black Hawk and Pave Hawk aircraft. Wrapped around each aircraft are yellow, custom-built personnel safety workstands, along with state-of-the-art electrical power and hydraulic carts and various diagnostic tools and test equipment. This is a significant difference from the homemade hydraulic jeeps, 28-volt power carts, and B-2 maintenance stands of the past. Parts that once were delivered by forklift now arrive on automated guided vehicles (AGV's). The AGV's retrieve parts from an automated five-story warehouse, the tallest building at the Naval Air Station.

Adjacent to the assembly line is the automated technical data facility, which houses thousands of volumes of aircraft technical data, prints, and military standards that are downloaded electronically. Online electronic commercial and Government information is housed here and in other locations throughout the depot. This facility keeps 77 remote libraries complete and current.

Outside, we look to our right and see the rotor blade whirltower with its adjoining state-of-the-art rotor blade restoration facilities, complete with a 52-foot autoclave (oven). Here, nearly every blade in the Army, Navy, and Air Force inventory is repaired and whirl-tested if necessary. A second multimillion-dollar whirltower, procured from the closed Pensacola Naval Depot, will be erected in the near future.

Across the street from this blade facility is the fuel control division, a complex organization staffed with highly experienced employees whose focus evolved from carburetors to fuel controls, to hydro-mechanical and electronic units. This facility currently is negotiating for certification by the Federal Aviation Administration.

At the other end of this street is the new advanced composite repair division that repairs Kevlar and other composites using water and laser jet cutters, autoclaves, and repair and fabrication stations all housed in an environmentally safe, dust-free area-a far cry from the old cowling, glass, and plastic shop.

Across the street is the avionics and accessories directorate that repairs electrical components. Here, the electronic equipment test facility and other sophisticated test and diagnostic equipment items are housed in an environmentally controlled shop. This building was constructed with digital avionics technology in mind.

Attached to this building is the onsite calibration facility and the analytical investigation division. When summoned by the Army Aviation Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama, a team of people from this division investigates Army helicopter mishaps.

Adjacent to this building is the bearing restoration facility, one of three Department of Defense (DOD)-authorized state-of-the-art facilities that overhauls helicopter bearings. Virtually every bearing and gear inside an aircraft transmission, engine, or gear box is inspected and processed for repair here.

On the next street, past the large, environmentally safe aircraft paint hangar, is DOD's $25 million advanced metal finishing facility. In this three-story building, 22 types of metal finishing are performed, including ion vapor deposition. This facility operates with a fully staffed chemical lab, machine shop, chemical storage area, and training classrooms. A chemical spill in this building would be directed to a below-ground funnel trap system.

Coming to the back entrance to Building 8, we enter the powertrain directorate with its million-dollar computerized transmission and gearbox test cells for the Apache, Black Hawk, AH-1W Super Cobra, and CH-47D Chinook helicopters. Soon to be on line, replacing the older OH-6 Cayuse transmission test cell, will be the OH-58D $4 million transmission test stand. Other component test facilities, such as the $2 million hot air test facility that tests complex parts for the AH-64's, also are computerized and, in some cases, have one-of-a-kind equipment.

Next, we see the engine production directorate with its rows of engine parts being inspected, repaired, and assembled on workbenches and assembly stands. The popular T-53 Lycoming engine assembly line, which still performs foreign military sales and field support, has been transformed to support the demanding T-700 General Electric engine work load. The T-700 family seems to be the mainstay of the engine work load; however, other Lycoming engines still are being produced. This directorate is looking into production of auxiliary power units and other advanced turbine engines.

Surrounding the engine assembly areas are machine, metal spray, robotics welding, and balancing support shops. Monorail installation and removal systems allow quicker processing of engines through the eight fully computerized engine test stands that put the engines through rigorous tests. All computerized engine test stands are going through a million-dollar upgrade.

Finishing up in Building 8, we see expansion projects in the hydraulic division. This shop has transformed from repairing ground-handling wheels to modern landing gear systems and from flimsy, single-stroke, low-pressure servo-actuators to complex, dual actuators. Today's employees have to know as much about electronics as they do about hydraulics.

The parts cleaning division, with areas throughout Building 8, saw great changes to processes and equipment as the environmental laws changed. When the Environmental Protection Agency outlawed chemicals that quickly cleaned parts, the division began to use aqueous products that require extended process times and, often, one-on-one chemical lab assistance. Visitors always are amazed to see helicopter parts being stripped with wheat starch, CO2 pellets, soda-bicarbonate, or high-pressure water machines.

Hangar 44 continues to serve as the test flight area that has helped to set a record of no flying accidents for over two decades. Housed within this building is the plastic media blasting facility, which can remove every bit of paint from an entire fuselage in hours while being environmentally safe and producing only about a bucket of hazardous waste.

In Hangar 43, thousands of circuits of helicopter wiring are analyzed with a sophisticated computer system. Programmed software is capable of analyzing over 20,000 test points on the AH-64 alone.

Many organizational changes also have taken place at CCAD. With DOD downsizing its industrial bases, the Army Materiel Command mandating two levels of supervision, and the depot realigning its infrastructure, CCAD has had three major and nine minor reorganizations. The reorganization of people and jobs is always the hardest change. Downsizing from a Vietnam-era peak strength of 4,200 DOD civilians and military employees to today's 3,100 civilians, 13 military members, and a few hundred contractor personnel presents CCAD with a great challenge. As a result, field service representatives from various contracting agencies have become vital to the support of CCAD and its mission.

To keep abreast of the changes and challenges, the workforce is linked together by electronic mail, the depot's own television network, and satellite conferences. The depot continues to seek various industrial certifications for all employees.

Bringing on four major weapon systems-the AH-64, OH-58D, SH-60 Seahawk, and AH-1W helicopters-and absorbing another DOD depot's work load, while undergoing a hiring freeze, downsizing, and reorganization, was a monumental challenge. Staying focused on new initiatives also will be challenging. Finding new ways to manage work loads and serve new customers, including the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps who contribute 25 percent of the depot's workload, will present even more challenges.

CCAD faced a great challenge 36 years ago when it transformed a Navy seaplane repair-and-overhaul facility on a Navy base into an Army rotary wing facility to support the Vietnam War aviation mission. The depot will continue to support Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps rotary wing missions.

My assignment to CCAD as a civilian employee today is vastly different from my past military assignments as an aviation noncommissioned officer and, later, chief warrant officer; but the employees here always have focused on providing the soldier, sailor, airman, or marine with the safest possible product to fly. The talent, endurance, and determination to survive and succeed in the 21st century are alive and well at CCAD. ALOG

Lawrence J. Simone currently is the Longbow Apache Pre-Mod Project Manager at CCAD. He is a retired Army aviation chief warrant officer. He holds a B.S. degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Florida.