Dover Air Force Base closing Jet Engine Shop

DOVER — After more than 40 years, Dover Air Force Base’s Jet Engine Shop is preparing to shut its doors.

Looking through the nacelle of a General Electric TF39 engine, airmen assigned to the 436th Maintenance Squadron Jet Engine Intermediate Maintenance flight secure a TF39 engine to an engine trailer in 2014 at Dover Air Force Base. (Dover Air Force Base photos/Roland Balik)

Looking through the nacelle of a General Electric TF39 engine, airmen assigned to the 436th Maintenance Squadron Jet Engine Intermediate Maintenance flight secure a TF39 engine to an engine trailer in 2014 at Dover Air Force Base. (Dover Air Force Base photos/Roland Balik)

While the space the shop currently occupies will eventually be used for different purposes, the closure has a symbolic impact, several workers say.

For many, working at the facility has been more than a job.

Thousands of engines have moved through the shop since 1971, helping the workspace build a widespread reputation. Military members and civilians stood alongside one another to repair engine flaws and make the machines flight-worthy once more.

“It’s a 45-year legacy,” aircraft engine supervisor Kevin Morrow said. “It really is. It’s a storied legacy.”

The location handles TF39 jet engines, which have been used on Lockheed C-5 Galaxy models, specifically the A and B versions. Now, however, the Air Force is shifting to C-5M aircraft, which use CF6 engines.

Both engines are made by General Electric. With the newer CF6 models under warranty, repairs are handled by the company rather than the military, aircraft engine supervisor Robert Burkhamer said.

Personnel from the 436th Maintenance Squadron Jet Engine Intermediate Maintenance flight slowly hoist a General Electric TF39 engine July 21, 2014, at Dover Air Force Base. The weight of an operational engine is more than 7,200 pounds.

Personnel from the 436th Maintenance Squadron Jet Engine Intermediate Maintenance flight slowly hoist a General Electric TF39 engine July 21, 2014, at Dover Air Force Base. The weight of an operational engine is more than 7,200 pounds.

The C-5M Galaxy is a more modernized aircraft and its use of the CF6 makes the TF39 engines obsolete.

Massive transports capable of carrying more than 100 tons worth of equipment, C-5s have been kept at Dover Air Force Base since 1969. They’ve been powered by TF39s for that timespan.

“These aircraft have been the backbone that carried the lion’s share of the war-fighting capability across the world over the years,” Mr. Morrow said.

The shop finished work on its final engine last month. It is now is in the process of closing, which could take up to a year. Before the location is transformed into a new facility, equipment needs to be moved and engines need to be dismantled.

Fluids are removed from the TF39s, allowing them to be scrapped and the government to re-use some of the metal.

For decades, when a TF39 appeared faulty, it would be sent to a base to be fixed. Often, that site was Dover Air Force Base. Engines from New York and engines from Germany have been worked on at the base, giving experts a chance to find and correct vital flaws.

With flight, even the tiniest details matter: A part off by a single millimeter can spell disaster if not noticed and fixed.

In the 1970s, it took approximately 70 days to tear down and rebuild an engine. Now, workers can do it in about half

Propulsion Flight legacy celebration attendees listen to Kevin Morrow, 436th Maintenance Squadron jet engine shop supervisor and master of ceremony for the event on March 25, at Dover Air Force Base. More than 200 current and former Propulsion Flight members as well as their family members attended the ceremony. The last TF39 produced and accepted as serviceable was on March 30.

Propulsion Flight legacy celebration attendees listen to Kevin Morrow, 436th Maintenance Squadron jet engine shop supervisor and master of ceremony for the event on March 25, at Dover Air Force Base. More than 200 current and former Propulsion Flight members as well as their family members attended the ceremony. The last TF39 produced and accepted as serviceable was on March 30.

that time.

While there were once around 200 people working on engines at the base, that number is now down to about 25.

Contracts for civilian workers happened to end around the same time the last engine was completed, so the facility is now run by a “skeleton crew,” Mr. Morrow said.

Although the shop is shutting down, the workers will not be left behind. The airplanes will remain in Dover, and technicians will be transferred to other units at the base, easing the transition.

The base hosted shops for equipment, air pressure, test cells and more, all of which were crucial in repairing engines.

After work was complete, engines would be placed in a test cell. As the name indicates, it measured whether a TF39 was flight-worthy.

“That engine, before it left our shop … it’s gone over with a fine-tooth comb,” Mr. Morrow said.

Some of the damage to an engine results from typical wear and tear, similar to how an older car may need its transmission replaced.

Engines have also been, on occasion, struck by birds in flight. Though a TF39 outweighs a bird by a few tons, fowl can wreak havoc on sensitive machinery.

A General Electric TF39 engine graphic sits on display during the Propulsion Flight legacy celebration.

A General Electric TF39 engine graphic sits on display during the Propulsion Flight legacy celebration.

It was not uncommon for workers, at least in the early days of the shop, to find additional problems beyond what was initially reported.

The busiest period, Mr. Morrow estimated, was the Gulf War, as technicians labored to ensure they had enough engines – and thus, aircraft – to meet the minimum readiness level.

The technicians who worked at the shop over the years took immense pride in their work and were often shifted to the different units within and around the shop, Mr. Morrow and Mr. Burkhamer said.

Both men have worked at the location for more than 35 years, and as they addressed the past and future Tuesday, some emotion popped up.

“We work with these people more than we are with our families,” Mr. Morrow said.

Last month, more than 200 people attended a celebration of the shop’s legacy, reminiscing and reflecting. The party also featured a ceremonial shutdown of engine 1429 – the very first engine to be worked on at the shop.

“A lot of folks are no longer with us,” Mr. Morrow said. “They were the folks that handed us the torch in their career. We’re keeping it lit.”

Propulsion Flight legacy celebration attendees look at one of many display boards containing photos and newspaper clippings from the past 45 years of General Electric TF39 engine production and testing for legacy C-5A/B Galaxy aircraft on March 25 at Dover Air Force Base. The C-5M Super Galaxy uses GE CF6-80C2 engines and produces 50,000 pounds of thrust.

Propulsion Flight legacy celebration attendees look at one of many display boards containing photos and newspaper clippings from the past 45 years of General Electric TF39 engine production and testing for legacy C-5A/B Galaxy aircraft on March 25 at Dover Air Force Base. The C-5M Super Galaxy uses GE CF6-80C2 engines and produces 50,000 pounds of thrust.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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