October 15, 2009 (by TSgt. Adrianne Wilson) - The District of Columbia Air National Guard 113th Maintenance Squadron has a facility that tests F-16 Fighting Falcon F110-GE-100 engines to ensure they are safe for flight before they are installed on the aircraft.
The Hush House test facility is primarily used for testing uninstalled engines following maintenance and is also used as a trim PAD
to perform high powered aircraft runs above 85 percent of the engines rated capacity. A trim pad is a concrete pad with a specialized hold back plate installed in the foundation.
"During engine tests, we monitor parameters such as fan and core speed, engine vibration for the fan, compressor and turbine rotors, torque motors on various operating components installed on the engine, oil pressure and oil temperature just to name a few," said Senior Master Sgt. Steven J. Ead, 113 MXS propulsion element supervisor.
"We make sure engines meet all requirements and are safe for flight," said Tech. Sgt. Timothy Shiley, 113 MXS Hush House test facility work leader. "We look at engine parameters pilots will never see and we ensure everything works to specification."
"Engine test facility [operators] and aircraft operators are basically pilots watching parameters to ensure everything is correct, while safety ground observers look over the aircraft and engine for leaks and other criteria in the applicable technical orders," said Master Sgt. Matthew S. Norvell, 113 MXS engine⁄aircraft run program manager.
There are also control panel monitors who keep an eye out for anything unusual. They watch the movement of ground safety observers and operate the camera system to aid in monitoring the testing.
Depending on the guidelines used based on the specific parts changed and work performed, engines can take 15 minutes to test, or it can take up to five days.
"There is no set amount of engines or planes tested, as it is either feast or famine," said Sergeant Shiley, who has 17 years of experience at the Hush House. "This year alone, we have already burned 118,997 pounds of fuel or 17,000 gallons of jet fuel, and this does not include testing aircraft."
The Airmen working in the Hush House have to be careful because there are many things that can injure them. All personnel must wear double hearing protection while around running engines or aircraft. During afterburner operations, the wind inside of the test facility is generally more than 40 mph.
"There are many hazards associated with this job," said Sergeant Shiley. "There are so many moving parts internally that could easily come apart, fuel and oil could spray on you. When we run engines on the test stand, we are on the sides, top and bottom looking at the engine, and we have to have constant communication to make sure everyone knows what the other is doing at all times. Safety is paramount, and we ensure everyone gets a safety briefing to know the hazards before we test everything we do, we double check each other."
"The weather is a huge safety issue when any type of moisture is present outside the Hush House during aircraft or engine operation," said Sergeant Ead. "The rain, snow and even the humidity that flows through the baffles becomes a slipping hazard for the mechanics. During the winter months, when the temperature is below 40 degrees and moisture is present, we have to monitor the aircraft intake or engine inlet for ice buildup, which could result in potential foreign object damage to the engine. The engine or aircraft operator will look over the engine or aircraft prior to all engine runs to ensure the safety of equipment and personnel."
The baffles absorbs the noise, hence the name Hush House. The Hush House was designed only for fighter aircraft due to the noise levels of fighter engines. The DCANG's Hush House is serial number 11, which represents the sequence number of Hush Houses being installed.
Although there have been zero major safety violations here, there have been violations at other locations.
"We have seen reports at other hush house locations where another aircraft during a high powered run came loose and the nose of the aircraft went through the front doors, due to the operator failing to look over the aircraft restraint for proper installation," said Sergeant Ead.
Sergeants Shiley and Norvell learned early in their career to respect the aircraft and engine or they will get hurt or hurt someone else... and they still firmly believe this.
"Every day is different, and it is not the same old routine," said Sergeant Norvell, who has been at the test facility for 10 years. "We take a tremendous amount of pride in the product we put out as we realize the severity of any mistake we could make could be detrimental in the loss of equipment, aircraft or loss of life. When we watch our aircraft take off into the sky, there is that sense of accomplishment and pride in the product we put out at the Hush House test facility, especially when maintaining a single engine aircraft.”
"The F-16 is a single-engine fighter that deploys across oceans, flies over major U.S. cities, and also employs over enemy territory," said Col. Andrew J. Donnelly, 113th Maintenance Group commander. "The pilot must trust their engine completely. Our engine shop is manned by highly-trained professional technicians that understand the trust pilots and local citizens put into the engines theymaintain."