MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, NC (WITN) - Fleet Readiness Center East at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point is set to become one of only two sites in the world to use laser technology to strengthen aircraft structural components.
The recently-completed facility will bring the new capability to FRC East and the F-35B Lightning Aircraft line next year.
When the new laser shock peening facility is fully operational in 2020, FRC East will be one of two sites in the world to use the technology that strengthens the aircraft without added metal or weight.
Under the current plans, the first F-35 aircraft using the technology would arrive in June to undergo the process, and then the facility will begin work on the remainder of the fleet.
Managers say the addition is a huge advantage for FRC East.
Construction of the $6 million facility wrapped in July, and the contractor providing the laser shock peening service will take occupancy early next spring, said Donald Jeter, portfolio manager of the F-35 aircraft line at FRCE.
Jeter said, “This facility is a big get for Fleet Readiness Center East,” Jeter said. “It’s very exciting. Being able to perform this laser shock peening process adds a huge strategic capability to our depot. With it, we’ll be able to provide a critical support element to the F-35B program and act as a force multiplier for the fleet and the warfighter.”
The 16,000-square-foot facility comprises two bays, where the actual laser shock peening process will take place, and a connected area that will house the laser generator.
The state-of-the-art laser shock peening process will allow FRCE to conduct heavy structure modifications that will strengthen areas of the F-35’s airframe without disassembling the entire aircraft, said Matthew Crisp, the F-35 Joint Program Office site lead at FRCE.
Aircraft maintenance professionals at FRCE will conduct prep work and some structural modification on the F-35s inducted into the depot, then turn them over to the contractor running the laser shock peening operations.
The contractor will complete the process to strengthen the bulkheads and airframes, and FRCE will put the jets back together, perform all the flight test functions and get them back out to the fleet, Jeter said.
The result is aircraft that have been reinforced without adding additional weight, which would reduce the fighter’s capabilities by limiting its fuel or weapons carrying capacity.