Fort Campbell is leading the Army into the future with the newly delivered RQ-7B Shadow engine run cell, which will streamline the repair process for the unmanned aerial vehicle used by brigade combat teams worldwide.
The installation’s Aviation Field Maintenance Directorate, or AFMD, collaborated with U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command and the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Product Management Office, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, on the five-year project that brought a first-of-its-kind mobile engine shop to the installation Sept. 9.
“This engine shop will support not only Fort Campbell, but units across the world in locations like Germany, Korea, and eastern Europe,” said Lt. Col. Olin Walters, product manager, Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Program Executive Office-Aviation. “More than five years ago there was a huge backlog of Shadow engines that were coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, in an effort to find a way to cut through that backlog, this was the answer.”
RQ-7B Shadows are used for reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and more, but since their engine repairs have traditionally been carried out in England or Hunt Valley, Maryland, brigades have struggled to maintain their capabilities.
“Usually when the military buys a product it’s American-made and supported,” said Michael Ezekiel, contracting officer representative, Logistics Readiness Center Aviation-Campbell. “This one was kind of unique in that it had to be shipped to England and go through customs. The oils and other materials used in the machine come from England, so it was challenging to get set up and supported.”
Fort Campbell serves as a central location that is intended to speed up the process. Since the engine run cell developed through the program is both portable and deployable, it could eventually see more widespread usage.
“In November we’ll actually go through a product verification where we will tear down the engine and go step-by-step through the work process,” Ezekiel said. “We’ll build it back up and do a completed run, which will certify us as an operational site for this.”
Once the site becomes operational, workers can use it to repair the Army’s unserviceable Shadow engines as needed.
“Essentially, you hook it up and the engine repair shop mimics an aircraft,” Walters said. “It’s feeding it oil, fuel and doing all the same metering a real aircraft would. And a system set up in another building controls all of that and takes readings you normally wouldn’t get from having the engine mounted on an aircraft.”
That allows technicians to troubleshoot issues, run engines through different testing scenarios and return them to the field in a timely manner.
“We’re definitely going to be seeing less turnaround time,” Ezekiel said. “Supply Support Activity is right across the street here at Fort Campbell, and that’s where the Soldiers receive their supplies. With us being co-located, when we fix something, we can send it right back over there.”
The RQ-7B Shadow engine run cell currently supports both legacy versions of the aircraft and was designed with growth potential to service its newest configuration – the Shadow Block III.
“This is the culmination of five years of effort to bring about the ability for us to conduct inspections and repairs on Shadow engines to support our operations for the foreseeable future,” Walters said. “[We want] to make sure we can maintain that throughput of serviceable engines out to the field. And it will be even more important as we transition from Shadow V2 to the Shadow V2 Block IIIs.”