National Nuclear Security Administration

Reverse-engineering the Super Stallion

November 1, 2016

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The H-53E Super Stallion

It takes a spectacular set of skills to maintain complex technology as it ages. No one understands this better than the scientists and engineers at NNSA who work to maintain the U.S. nuclear stockpile. NNSA experts at Kansas City National Security Campus (KCNSC) were recently recognized for their unique knowledge set after being frequently called upon to apply these skills on a different critical military need: H53-E Super Stallion helicopters.

The Naval Air Systems Command—whose mission is to maintain naval aviation aircraft, weapons, and systems operated by Sailors and Marines—have kept these helicopters flying for the U.S. Marine Corps since 1980. As these heavy-lift helicopters get older, it has become more difficult to find firms with the capabilities and equipment to maintain their increasingly outdated technology–until KCNSC engineers stepped into assist.

A special (KCNSC?) team called the Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages group currently working to reverse engineer the helicopters. The team was provided with hardware only – no accompanying drawings, manuals, or definitions from which to work – and a goal to produce replacement parts. The unavailability of many components in the project makes the task even more daunting.

The five-year project requires a wide range of additional expertise: more than 300 KCNSC specialists in engineering, testing, analysis and fabrication have contributed to the effort. Team members across the board continue to expand involvement in the unique project, as the contributing team tackles problems and overcomes hurdles to successfully extend the helicopter’s service life.

“It has been a great personal and professional pleasure to work with the good people at KCNSC,” Richard Tullos of NAVAIR’s H-53 Sustainment Support said. “We are immensely lucky that our organizational paths crossed at a time when we most needed [this expertise]. The H-53 service life keeps moving ever longer, and we had incredibly few options to keep two working computers in every airplane. Our Marines and Sailors don’t know it yet, but they will owe [KCNSC] a huge debt of gratitude.”

KCNSC's Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages H-53E team