The Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center East successfully assembled the lift fan clutch for the F-35B Lightning II aircraft for the first time.

Assembling the clutch without the part’s original manufacturer is critical to accommodate F-35 maintenance and repair as more enter service, according to the Navy.

The F-35B is the variant of the fighter jet the Marine Corps employs, as well as the United Kingdom and Italy. The aircraft can conduct short take-offs and vertical landings on amphibious ships, aircraft carriers and expeditionary airfields — thanks to the aircraft’s lift system that includes the clutch.

“The F-35B’s short take-off and vertical landing abilities offer the Fleet critical capabilities that cannot be duplicated by any other aircraft,” Capt. James M. Belmont, the readiness center’s commanding officer, said in a Sept. 28 Navy news release. “The lift fan clutch is a vital part of the aircraft’s lift system. Standing up this capability allows us to provide support for the F-35B that’s not available anywhere else in DoD.”

FRCE is based out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 542, also based out of Cherry Point, received its first F-35 aircraft in May.

“Even though it seems as if the F-35 has been around for a while, it’s still very new,” said Fred LeBrun, the readiness center’s F-35 capability establishment lead, said in the release. “It’s still ramping up. Flight hours are increasing. More countries are buying them. This multiplication effect places increased demands on the supply system for components.”

“It’s a key part of the lift system, so this is going to be critical for the depot to have this capability,” LeBrun said.

The part also poses challenges because of its complexity. For example, LeBrun said that a simpler part may have a 500- to 1,000=page component maintenance manual, while the clutch has a 10,000=page manual and accompanying modules for the artisan.

“The complication level on this component is right up there with producing an engine on the aircraft,” LeBrun said.

To learn how to assemble the part, the FRCE team underwent training at the Rolls Royce LiftWorks facility in Indianapolis. Rolls Royce is the original manufacturer for the lift fan clutch.

“We could see the way that they do things,” said Steven Murray, an aircraft engine mechanic at FRCE. “We had our industrial engineering technicians with us so they could tailor things to fit the way we do things here at the depot. Then, it was extensive training here — evolutions of disassembly and assembly to ensure we are doing it right.”

FRCE is the state’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider.

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