Heat, Sand, and Rockets

Maintaining OH-58Ds on the battlefield

“If you want to understand what it’s like being a civilian repairing U.S. Army helicopters in Iraq, just imagine that you’re a trustee in a prison,” says Ray Turner. “You’re kept confined within a fortified area, the living conditions are sparse, and the shower and toilets always leave a lot to be desired.”

As part of Rolls-Royce’s team of in-theater engineers supporting U.S. Army OH-58D Kiowa helicopters equipped with Rolls-Royce Model 250-C30R/3 engines, Turner knows what he’s talking about. In fact, Turner, fellow engineer Jerry Black, and six other Rolls-Royce technicians have been on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan on one-year tours since 2002. Their service is part of Rolls-Royce’s Customer Logistic Support (CLS) agreement with the U.S. Army. Under the CLS contract, Rolls-Royce uses its global network of commercial parts suppliers and distributors to keep the military’s OH-58Ds in constant combat readiness.

“There are currently 220 OH-58Ds equipped with the 250-C30R/3 engine; many of which have been upgraded from earlier models,” says Larry DeMott, Rolls-Royce’s manager of Model 250 customer support. “Under our CLS contract, our job is to make sure that U.S. Army technicians have access to the parts and expertise they need in-theater, through our own engineers that are embedded with them, and parts supplied through our global network. From O-rings to engines, we handle logistics supply and delivery.” Rolls-Royce also provides similar services for other branches of the U.S. military, including the Air Force, Marines, and Navy.

Working conditions
To date, the U.S. Army’s OH-58Ds have logged more than 180,000 hours of combat flight time. On a monthly basis, that’s “four to five times what they would log in the same period stateside,” says Black. “That’s why the U.S. Army, with our help, tries to keep the Kiowas in as high a state of operational readiness as possible. Although we do work within the usual TTO and other, the first priority is to ensure that the Model 250s are always ready to go.”

To say the least, this is no easy task: Flying conditions in this part of the world are anything but ideal.

In Iraq, where both Black and Turner recently served, heat was a major problem. In some parts of the desert, the high can hit up to 130 F! “We coped by starting before dawn at 4 a.m., and then working to 11 a.m.,” Turner says. “By then, it would have become so hot that you couldn’t even touch the aircraft. So we’d break until 5 p.m. to let things cool down a bit, and then work into the night.”

Of course, this routine could only be followed if the weather cooperated. But if a sandstorm came up, all bets were off. “It would get so dusty at times, that you couldn’t even see the aircraft,” Turner tells AMT.

This same sand can wreak havoc on engine parts, which is why the U.S. Army has been installing Engine Barrier Filters in its helicopters. According to Turner and Black, the EBFs have substantially reduced engine erosion due to friction.

Still, the sand and dust gets into everything, in a working environment that often lacks air conditioning, running water, or electricity. “We are grateful for all the ‘Saddam bunkers’ that are still standing, because working inside them can provide 10 to 15 degrees difference compared to the heat outside,” says Turner. “But that’s about it: Since most lack power, it’s still working pretty rough.”

There are times when work needs to be done fast. That’s a situation Jerry Black found himself in: After being sent to Camp Anaconda near Balad, Iraq, “We were waiting for our equipment to arrive when we received word that an aircraft had made a precautionary landing (PL) at FOB Normandy and we needed to be on the flight line ready to leave for Normandy by 1300 and bring an engine with us,” he recalls.

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