Indian Head, Md. –
In April, an ejection seat manufacturer officially notified the Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Division (NSWC IHD) Cartridge Actuated Devices/Propellant Actuated Devices (CAD/PAD) Joint Program Office (JPO) and the F-35 JPO of a quality escape that would prevent a CAD installed on the F-35 ejection seat from functioning properly. The quality escape was initially discovered by ejection seat technicians performing routine maintenance, who found that the Seat Initiator Cartridge was missing magnesium powder. Magnesium powder, an energetic material, is required as part of the explosive charge for aircrew to initiate the ejection seat. The root cause stemmed from a United Kingdom Health Surveillance and Occupational Health requirement resulting in a change to the manufacturing process, increasing the potential for a production defect.
Working closely with the manufacturer and the F-35 JPO, NSWC IHD CAD/PAD personnel developed and validated a non-destructive procedure to quickly verify if suspect devices contained required energetic ingredients. In addition, Expeditionary Exploitation Unit ONE, developed a portable radiographic inspection procedure to support on-site testing of aircraft for this particular defect. Utilizing NSWC IHD’s CAD/PAD Division in-service engineering agents as needed, the strategy was implemented around the country to support F-35 aviation readiness.
Subsequently, in July, the manufacturer again notified the CAD/PAD JPO of this issue’s applicability to other ejection seats installed in U.S. military aircraft. The production processes were updated to address concerns, but out of an abundance of caution, the Naval Air Systems Command directed an immediate pause of impacted aircraft operations until suspect components could be inspected. This decision temporarily grounded a number of F/A-18B/C/D Hornet; F/A-18E/F Super Hornet; E/A-18G Growler; F-35B/C Lightning II; and T-45 Goshawk and F-5 Tiger II training aircraft. Additional F/A-18B/C/D, F/A-18E/F, and F-5 aircraft supported by the U.S. Navy’s CAD/PAD Foreign Military Sales program were also impacted by this event.
NSWC IHD’s Non-Destructive Evaluation Branch engineers and technicians immediately responded with around-the-clock support to inspect suspect items identified within existing stockpiles. Led by Steven Possehl, NSWC IHD Senior Engineer and Level III Radiographer of Record, these individuals developed additional non-destructive test techniques and implemented an aggressive schedule to restore confidence in the energetics of the Navy’s egress systems.
“I have family members riding in these [ejection] seats” said Possehl, who personally related to the importance and urgency of this undertaking.
“This effort is why we work so hard every day to enhance our expertise and invest in the capability to be able to respond when called upon. We are here to serve the warfighter and the motivation and dedication to do that has never been clearer,” said Samantha Gray, NSWC IHD Test and Evaluation Division Director.
Over 4,400 items were screened and validated with no defects found prior to their return to usable inventory, much of which was quickly packaged at NSWC IHD’s Consolidated Stock Point and shipped away from the region by truck, helicopter or aircraft. With facility temperatures exceeding one hundred degrees combined with shifts in excess of 12 hours per day for six days each week lasting nearly a month embodied the resolve of the CAD/PAD team and ensured a steady supply of replacement assets.
“An inspection and validation event of this magnitude has never occurred in the history of the CAD/PAD program,” said Jason Caron, CAD/PAD JPO Deputy Program Manager. “The logistics of locating, packaging, and shipping acceptable components while simultaneously leveraging conventional film X-ray, digital X-ray, or computed tomography technologies to screen incoming or on-hand components and return them to ‘ready for issue’ stockpiles is unprecedented. Specialists, explosive handlers, engineers, technicians, logisticians, and other subject matter experts in civilian and active duty military capacity came together to maintain aircraft readiness worldwide. More importantly, they helped remove doubt in ejection seats to safely function and save lives if required.”
The CAD/PAD JPO manages the design, procurement, and sustainment of technically-complex devices installed within aircrew egress and escape systems, life-support equipment, fire suppression systems, aerial refueling capabilities, air cargo operations, sensitive data destruction, aircrew survival equipment, and various weapon system(s) functions.
“The safety of our aircrew is our primary mission and our confidence in the egress systems design is unwavering. The dedication and urgency at which the CAD/PAD Team reacted to this monumental task was impressive. The CAD/PAD team exemplifies the very best of Indian Head and to be a part of it was incredibly humbling. Our engineers, logisticians and technicians are the most dedicated and passionate professionals I have had the privilege to serve with,” said Greg Longworth, CAD/PAD JPO Director.
NSWC IHD — a field activity of the Naval Sea Systems Command and part of the Navy’s Science and Engineering Establishment — is the leader in ordnance, energetics, and EOD solutions. The Division focuses on energetics research, development, testing, evaluation, in-service support, manufacturing and disposal; and provides warfighters solutions to detect, locate, access, identify, render safe, recover, exploit and dispose of explosive ordnance threats.