“It may come as a surprise to some people that Lockheed Martin Aeronautics is in the engine business,” admits Chuck Artymovich, vice president and general manager of Kelly Aviation Center, or KAC. The company credited with designing, developing, and manufacturing the U-2 Dragon Lady, C-130 Hercules, C-5 Galaxy, and F-16 Fighting Falcon also maintains, repairs, overhauls, and tests the engines that power these military aircraft. KAC also repairs engines for some commercial aircraft.
KAC is located at Port San Antonio, a large industrial park on what used to be Kelly AFB in San Antonio, Texas. About 500-plus Kelly employees and more than 600 subcontractors overhauled 267 engines at this modern facility in 2010.
General Electric TF39 turbofan and Rolls-Royce T56 turboprop engines account for the majority of this business. The TF39 powers A, B, and C models of the C-5 Galaxy. The T56 powers legacy C-130 Hercules transport and all P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. KAC employees also maintain, repair, and overhaul the F118 engines in the U-2 and the General Electric CF6-50 series engines. Employees also assemble, inspect, and test new General Electric F110 engines that power the F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-15 Eagle.
KAC arose from what was the San Antonio Air Logistics Center. This government-operated engine depot was slated to close as part of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission of 1995. The military engine work done in San Antonio was to be moved to other engine depots.
The US Air Force Propulsion Business Area, or PBA, competition in 1998 gave San Antonio another shot at military engine work. The winner of the competition would receive a fifteen-year contract to maintain Air Force F100, TF39, and T56 engines and related aircraft accessories. Lockheed Martin teamed with Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, or OC-ALC, located at Tinker AFB, to compete for the contract. TF39 and T56 work would be done by Lockheed Martin at Kelly. F100 work would be done by the existing engine depot in Oklahoma. The only other competitor consisted of a team of three major engine manufacturers—Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, and General Electric.
Lockheed Martin and OC-ALC won the competition in February 1999. KAC and Port San Antonio were established the same year.
The PBA contract runs through 2014 and is reviewed annually by the US Air Force. “The team has received the Air Force’s highest overall rating of excellent for the past ten years,” Artymovich noted. “For 2010, as the most recent example, we had 100 percent on-time deliveries that have been 99.98 percent defect-free. That performance covers nearly 13,000 items, including engines and engine components.”
The center has excelled in other ways as well. “First and foremost, we have succeeded in supporting our warfighters,” Artymovich continued. “We have, for example, doubled the on-wing performance of the TF39.” On-wing performance is the amount of time an engine stays in service before it has to be returned for maintenance, repair, or overhaul—what is termed MRO in the aircraft engine industry.
KAC has also handled unexpected, but critical, increases in demand. The US military surge in operations in 2010 put a heavy toll on engine in-service hours. These engines were also operating in severe environments. The TF39 workload increased forty percent as a result.
“We handled the surge without a problem,” Artymovich noted. “It’s important to the country that we are equipped to handle increased workloads. We have a flexible workforce and the industrial capacity needed to deal with surges.”
Capacity for engine MRO facilities equates to test cells. Every completed engine must go through a battery of tests before it can be reinstalled on an aircraft. While most facilities may have one or two test cells, KAC has eight—four for testing large turbofan engines and four for testing turboprops.
The test cells and a lot of other infrastructure were in place when Lockheed Martin moved to Kelly in 1999. The processes and facilities at KAC, however, have been streamlined and modernized since the PBA contract work began.
“We applied best commercial practices and used existing practices where they made sense,” explained Frank Cowan, business development director for KAC. “For example, the average part previously moved twenty-six miles as it went through the facility. We reduced that distance to three miles. The footprint of the facility consumed 1.8 million square feet of space in twenty-nine buildings. We reduced that footprint to just under one million square feet in five buildings. And we still have additional capacity.”
Cowan points to a $5 million Danobat high-speed, computer-controlled grinding machine as another example of the company’s investment at KAC. The machine grinds the blade tips of the rotor while the blades are being rotated at high speed, thereby presenting the blades to the grinding wheel under actual operating conditions.
KAC’s investment extends to the local community as well. The company worked with eighteen San Antonio and south Texas independent school districts and with St. Philip’s College to establish an apprenticeship program for area students. Graduates receive a Jet Engine Mechanic Level 1 certification at the end of the eighteen-month program. About ninety percent of graduates remain employed at KAC.
“Students begin their career path even earlier, in their junior year in high school, by attending classes at the Alamo Area Aerospace Academy,” explained Joe Wilson, who oversees the program for KAC. “They are assigned a mentor on the production floor. They get to see firsthand what working in industry is all about. Our workday starts at six in the morning. That in itself is a revelation for them.”
The program, which graduated its seventh class in December 2010, has been so successful that Toyota has expressed interest in creating a similar apprenticeship program throughout their manufacturing plants in North America.
The PBA contract formed a solid foundation on which KAC immediately started building. In 2003, a joint venture agreement with General Electric brought in MRO work for the F110 and F118 engines as well as assembly work for new F110 engines. (Most F110s for the UAE Air Force Block 60 F-16s were built at KAC.) In 2005, a joint venture agreement with Rolls-Royce solidified engineering support and sourced new parts for the T56.
In 2006, General Electric transferred work on KC-10 CF6-50 engines to KAC. In 2007, KAC began working on components for CF6-80 engines, the same engines that power the C-5M Super Galaxy. These engines are also used on a large number of commercial airliners including Boeing 747 and 767 and Airbus A300 series aircraft. In 2009, KAC was certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency to work on CF6-50 engines. The certification opens up new markets for engine work on commercial European engines, including those that power the DC-10, A300, and 747.
Commercial engine work represents a bright future for KAC. “We are applying the experience we have with the CF6-50 engines from the KC-10 to commercial aircraft, such as Airbus A300Bs and 747s, that use this same engine,” Artymovich said. (KAC is accumulating the necessary tooling, training, and other assets in 2011 to begin commercial MRO work on CF6-80 later this year.) The company is also targeting potential MRO work for CFM56 commercial engines (related to the CF6 family), of which about 18,000 are in service with more than 450 customers around the world.
“The processes for capturing business, contracting, inventorying, auditing, and almost everything else are different for commercial engines and as we find new ways to partner with the military,” Artymovich explained. “We are capitalizing on the best practices learned by working with the military to develop customized solutions for commercial customers.”
The obstacles to success, however, are outweighed by KAC’s advantages. The center offers responsiveness that comes from being independent and the volume that comes from extra capacity. “The major airlines have their own engine MRO facilities,” Artymovich said. “But their own fleets set their priorities. Independent companies in the MRO business don’t have the infrastructure needed to overhaul hundreds of engines per year.”
As for future military aircraft engine work, the success of the public/private partnership between OC-ALC and KAC makes a strong case for creating new partnerships.
“The PBA work has been extremely good for us,” Artymovich said. “However, we realize that it will not go on forever. So we have to look for ways to expand our military business. Expansion may involve partnering agreements for offloading work from government depots during future unexpected surges. Our immediate challenge is to get the word out that we can reduce cost and improve schedule performance. We want everyone to know Lockheed Martin Aeronautics is in the engine business.”