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.