New shelters help protect workers, aircraft from the sun

They are essentially a pair of sturdy tents capable of withstanding hurricane force winds, but they are also broadening the capability and efficiency of workers at Fleet Readiness Center East at Cherry Point.

Two new shelters are in place for the facility’s F-35 modification line.

“These are commonly called aircraft sun shades,” said Clifton Game, F-35 facilities engineering lead. “Formally for procurement purposes, they are called aircraft protection equipment.”

The pair of 68-foot by 60-foot shelters sit side by side near where the Marine Corps’ new fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighters are receiving modifications.

“Mainly they provide weather protection,” Game said. “They are grounded structures, so they provide lightning protection. And they also provide solar protection to help mitigate excessive cockpit temperature and basic weather protection. In this case, it provides some space for maintenance crews to access the aircraft even in mild inclement weather.”

Game said exposure to the intense heat of the sun can make working on the aircraft difficult.

“The cockpit temperatures can run up to in excess of 150 degrees Fahrenheit in direct exposure to sunlight, so it makes it difficult for pilots to get in the aircraft and also some temperature sensitive avionics benefit from not being exposed to direct sunlight,” Game said. “These are expensive aircraft, and so they deserve a little extra protection.”

He said the shelters are nothing new to aviation but are new to FRC East.

“These are commonly used in other areas, particularly desert climates like Yuma,” he said. “For the F-35 program, they exist at Eglin Air Force Base and they currently exist at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. We actually modeled our procurement after the Beaufort devices.”

Combined, the two shelters cost about $150,000. The latest estimate for the cost of an F-35B is $134 million.

They consist of hot dipped galvanized steel.

“The trusses are on 10-foot centers,” Game said. “The structure is pretty substantial. It is rated for 130 miles per hour wind load.”

The frame is covered on the top with a thick vinyl fabric.

“We’ve chosen beige for the anti-reflective properties of that color,” Game said.

The size of the structure is large enough for the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force versions of the F-35.

“We purchased those dimensions to accommodate the F-35C model, which is the largest model in terms of wing span,” Game said. “Currently we are processing F-35B models, which has a 35-foot wingspan, so we can easily get the aircraft in here and move around them.”

Game said the shelters came in handy when an F-35 came in for a quick repair. He said the extra jet didn’t upset the regular flow of aircraft work at the facility.

“An aircraft that was on the USS Wasp at sea and involved in sea trials, and they had a situation where they required that aircraft to be diverted from the aircraft carrier,” Game said. “It came to Cherry Point and landed here and we were able to shelter that aircraft and get it repaired so it could resume operations at sea. Because of our production levels, we really didn’t have space for the aircraft in the hangar. We would have had to defuel the aircraft to bring it into the hangar, and actually the availability of these shelters allowed that aircraft to return to sea operations.”

The shelters open in front and back for access.

“In an operational setting like at Beaufort, the pilots can drive the aircraft in and drive them right out,” Game said.

Other aircraft can also use the shelters, he said, providing a staging area for aircraft that helps with efficiency in the production area.

Game said that seeing the shelters in use has been rewarding.

“It’s been fascinating to be a part of this program,” he said. “I think this was one of my projects that was my contribution to the Marine Corps’ IOC goals. It was nice to have a project that you could work on from start to finish and hopefully they will stand up and do their job.”