NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND PATUXENT RIVER, Md.– The F/A-18 and EA-18G program office (PMA-265) has experienced a stretch of readiness control since meeting mission capable rate mandates in 2019 thanks in part to the Hornet Health Assessment and Readiness Tool or HhART.
As of June 1, the program also marked 90 days without a reported Physiological Episode (PE) for all F/A-18s and EA-18Gs – citing HhART as the primary contributor to the notable decrease. HhART has the ability to identify component degradation and enable proactive maintenance planning.
“This is the first time in more than 10 years that we’ve gone more than three months without a PE reported,” said Capt. Stephen May, Growler Deputy Program Manager for PMA-265. “That alone is a great success story and is a direct result of our team’s PE Root Cause and Corrective Action investigation and the radical innovation of HhART, which helps prevent component failure before it happens.”
Initially derived in 2018 as a “radically different” approach to understanding the PE-aircraft function interaction, HhART was beta-tested by Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213, in February 2019. The following month brought fleet-wide deployment for F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler, and it has continued to provide definitive results since.
During HhART’s first year of use in the F/A-18 fleet, occurrences of PEs decreased roughly 75 percent, and pressurization-related PEs, which were historically tied to component failure, were reduced by 80 percent, May explained.
HhART uses aircraft and Slam Stick data, meshed with advanced data analysis, to identify degradation or exceedance of specification in specific components or sections of a system, then flags it for maintenance action in near real-time. The rapid and successful development and deployment of the tool by an innovative group of engineers and data scientists across the country provided a preventative and diagnostic tool to mitigate PE-related factors; however, HhART quickly proved valuable in supporting readiness and sustainment initiatives as well.
Aerospace engineer Andrew Palek was a core member of the development team and now supports its use and expansion as part of the F/A-18 and EA-18G Fleet Support Team at Naval Air Station North Island, California.
He explained that through this analysis of aircraft and maintenance data, HhART identifies specific components in degradation and flags specific conditions, then alerts the squadron and provides prescribed corrective actions and a corresponding timeline (i.e. before next flight or within next 10). All of this often occurs prior to any actual failures or in-flight emergencies.
Palek said HhART reduces the maintainer’s troubleshooting and resolution time, resulting in faster maintenance actions. The early identification allows squadrons to plan for flagged repairs, order parts that will be needed, and, ideally, incorporate the fixes into a jet’s upcoming scheduled maintenance – circumventing unplanned downtime and getting any downed jets back up much faster.
Several HhART features and alerts are live in the F/A-18 Automated Maintenance Environment (FAME), which enables immediate delivery of post-flight alerts and more are in development, Palek added. While the early focal point was on the Environmental Control System, the team is rapidly developing and expanding to other air vehicle subsystems, such as fuel, flight controls, hydraulics, and propulsion.
Palek said the team is looking at how HhART can help address a fleet maintenance head-hurter, the Generator Control Units, and has conducted some analysis of pods and stores, specifically for the Growler’s ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System. He anticipates HhART will continue to expand and the scope of data will only improve over time.
The software now supports all U.S. Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18 type/model/series, to include EA-18G Growler, as well as international partner Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18Fs and EA-18Gs.
“The aircraft data was there all along, but it wasn’t until HhART that we could tap into it and put it to good use,” said Don Salamon, PMA-265 Data Analytics Integrated Product Team lead, who was also instrumental in HhART’s journey from concept to effective tool in the hands of the warfighter.
Salamon added, “It has become a game-changer for the Hornet family and Growler. HhART has quickly contributed to a stark decrease in PEs with the direct link of far fewer downed aircraft due to unplanned failures, and has certainly been a factor in improving maintenance efficiencies and spares planning, ultimately, helping sustain an increased number of mission capable aircraft.”