FRCSW Teammate Develops Fixture to Improve Plating Process

Binh Huynh, work leader of the FRCSW plating shop, stands next to the spindle of a horizontal stabilizer used in legacy F/A-18 Hornets. Only the bottom, metallic appearing area of the spindle will be treated. The yellow and white areas on the spindle are wax, used to protect the remaining portions of the component.

About six months ago, Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) plating shop work leader Binh Huynh was faced with a question:

Could a landing gear piston be salvaged by plating its inside?

Working with engineering and manufacturing Huynh developed a fixture for chrome plating the inside of the piston, not only salvaging the component, but foregoing the approximate $100,000 replacement cost, as well.

The piston, or bottom cylinder, acts as the bottom portion of an aircraft’s shock struts where it is attached to the landing gear. The top cylinder is attached to the aircraft.

“We never had the capability of plating the inside diameter of the piston with chrome,” he said. “The inside is tricky, but the outside is easy. We tried it first on a dummy piston and it worked.”

Born in Saigon, Vietnam, the 44-year-old Huynh relocated to the United States at the age of 15 in 1988.

“My dad served with the south Vietnamese military and that’s how we came here, as refugees,” he said.

Having worked for the Boeing Co. for two years, and then six years operating a machining shop in West Covina established by his brother, Huynh developed the skills that qualified him to begin work as a contractor in the plating shop in 2012.

“I worked as a contractor for three years and then converted to a federal employee, and was promoted to the plating shop lead last year,” he said.

Located in Building 472, he oversees the shop’s 10 electroplaters who service the nose and main landing gear piston of the F-18 and E-2 Hawkeye C-2 Greyhound airframes.

All of the pistons are plated with chrome, cadmium and nickel.

“The pistons have approximately a four-inch diameter. We grind them to about 20,000th under size, then plate them and then they go to the machine shop for processing. It’s really like painting, except we use metals,” Huynh said.

The plating process is a lengthy one, requiring roughly 50 hours for the metallic application alone.

“At each process you have to bake them to release hydrogen which takes about 23 hours. And after you bake, you have to mask it because the piston is an L-shape and you only plate the barrel,” Huynh noted.

During his visit in late June Commander, Naval Air Systems Command Vice Adm. Dean Peters recognized Huynh’s innovation and the plating shop for its role in the landing gear overhaul and refurbishment program that marked its highest quarterly throughput of 20 landing gear in two years.

“We all have the same goal here, and that’s to support the fleet,” Huyhn said.

FRCSW Services E-2/C-2 Landing Gear

Aircraft mechanic Eric Fountain strips the nose landing gear of an E-2C Hawkeye to verify the components serial and part number.

The maximum gross take-off weight of the E-2 Hawkeye surveillance airframe and its sister C-2 Greyhound transport is more than 52,000 pounds. Combined with landings, perhaps no other part of the aircraft absorbs as much pressure as its landing gear.

Located in Building 472, the Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) landing gear shop is the sole FRC for overhauls and repairs to the Hawkeye and Greyhound nose and main landing gear.

“Landing gear are brought in for cause, like hard landings or fluid leakage, and now they are also brought in under aircrafts the planned maintenance interval (PMI) cycle,” said aircraft mechanic David Pearson.

“Whenever an aircraft (E-2/C-2) comes in from Building 460, they remove the landing gear and the drag braces and bring them here for either a repair or overhaul.”

Approximately seven years ago, the landing gear became part of the airframes PMI-2, a substantial disassembly of the aircraft which also includes removal of the wings, engines, and tail.

Landing gear are evaluated, reassembled and tested. Most are re-issued to the E-2/C-2 program in the Building 460 hangar.

Kits containing about 100 internal and external landing gear parts are used to streamline any overhaul process.

Pearson said that about 90 percent of all landing gear work is PMI, and of that, about 50 percent are repairs.

“For repairs we order the parts we need and reassemble the unit,” said aircraft mechanic Rupert Linberg. “Depending on the repair it usually takes a couple of weeks.”

Within the past three years, the landing gear shop increased its staff to 11 which includes contractor personnel.

Pearson noted that most of the repair and overhaul services to legacy F/A-18 and Super Hornet landing gear is done by private contractors and intermediate-level active duty personnel.

Meanwhile, the shop produced 20 landing gear last quarter, the highest throughput in the last two years.

“Our success is based upon the assistance we receive from our production control folks, engineering and quality assurance people and our supervisor,” Pearson said.