Friday, May 01, 2009

FRCSE delivers 'Last Blue'

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast F/A-18 Product Officer Lt. Cmdr. Nate Marler (center) and the FRCSE flight check crew at Cecil Commerce Center prior to flying the last Model A Blue Angel to its home base at Forrest Sherman Field, NAS Pensacola, Fla. (Photo by Victor Pitts)

By Frank Taormina, FRCSE Public Affairs

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) recently delivered the final F/A-18A/B model aircraft conversion to the Blue Angels. After its test flight in the sky above Cecil Commerce Center, Fla., the "Last Blue" was flown to the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron at NAS Pensacola, Fla.

The aircraft was inducted by FRCSE at Cecil Commerce Center in 2008 to undergo the transformation from Navy fighter jet to aerobatic aircraft. The conversion requires more than 3,500 labor hours by FRCSE artisans whose skills and expertise ensure the F/A-18 Hornet can perform synchronized formations with power and finesse.

A number of changes are necessary to convert the F/A-18A/B into a Blue Angels aircraft, such as removing gun and missile launchers, installing new wiring from nose to tail, re-routing oil lines, installing inverted flight auxiliary fuel pumps, and installing an oil tank to create the blue smoke that is emitted from the tail of the aircraft. Finally, after flight checks and test flights are complete, the paint crew at FRCSE applies the famous Blue Angels blue-and-gold color scheme.

The Blue Angels received their first F/A-18A/B model Hornets in 1986. Model A is the single-seat version. Model B is the two-seat trainer version used for VIP flights.

The next generation of Blue Angels Hornets will be F/A-18C/D models that are currently being modified by Boeing Aerospace at Cecil Commerce Center and painted by FRCSE. The first delivery of the C/D model aircraft is expected later in 2009 when Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 at NAS Patuxent River, Md., completes Blue Angels-specific software testing.

Since the late 1980s, Artisans at FRCSE NAS Jacksonville and FRCSE Cecil Commerce Center have converted 23 F/A-18 Hornets into Blue Angels aircraft. Major Nimock, F/A-18 strategic business team lead at NAS Jax, and Bruce McCurdy, F/A-18 product manager at Cecil, have worked with the conversion team for a number of years and developed an excellent customer relationship with the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron.

Nimock noted that one of the highlights of his Blue Angels relationship was coordinating a VIP flight for a former member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

He added, "It is indeed an honor for our FRCSE team to be involved with the Blue Angels. We take extra pride in the fact that when the millions of people see the Blue Angels perform, we can point to their Hornets and say, 'we built those.'"

McCurdy passed along the Blue Angels' sincere gratitude to everyone at FRCSE who make it possible for the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron to be successful.

He also acknowledged the contributions of Randy Williams and the Cecil Commerce Center F/A-18 Planned Maintenance Interval Product team, as well as the ground/flight check shop, engineering, the aircraft strip/paint shop and the support personnel.

"Their dedication and expertise made it possible for FRCSE to provide another top-quality product to our customers," said McCurdy.