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Boeing Frontiers
April 2004
Volume 02, Issue 11
Boeing Frontiers
Integrated Defense Systems

Reality programming

Ship Suitability Team puts engineers where the products are: at sea


A U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet undergoes maintenance operationsIt's 10 o'clock on a chilly, windy night in the Atlantic Ocean, 100 miles from Norfolk, Va. On the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, several Boeing Integrated Defense Systems engineers huddle beside the Landing Signal Officer. They're getting ready to watch their first arrested landing by an F/A-18E Super Hornet.

It's noisy, dark and wet. The ship is pitching in 10-foot seas. And it's dangerous. It's all part of a Boeing IDS ship suitability training program. These engineers are on board to better understand the environment in which Boeing products are used.

The hazards of operating and training in this harsh environment can be devastating. Operating safely requires a thorough knowledge of shipboard requirements and procedures. That is the job of the Boeing IDS Ship Suitability Team--to make sure that everyone involved in the design of a U.S. Navy product understands these requirements.

The Ship Suitability Team is small: just five engineers, three of whom are Navy veterans. But it has a significant effect on what Boeing accomplishes in shipboard weapon system design and support. Its work exemplifies the efforts that Boeing undertakes to best understand its customers' needs.

The Ship Suitability Team works with several other groups to address the issues of shipboard operations, limitations, nomenclature and equipment. These groups include U.S. Navy ship suitability counterparts, the fleet, and the engineers on program integrated product teams. The team especially works with engineers who specialize in specific shipboard aspects, such as loads and dynamics, mechanisms, aerodynamics, supportability and propulsion.

"We handle just about every aspect of the sea-basing business," said Tom Nondorf, Boeing IDS functional lead for ship suitability in St. Louis. This group ensures that Boeing products used aboard ships, from aircraft to spares to ordnance, meet the requirements of form, fit and function in this demanding environment. The team takes a "systems engineering" approach to help management understand and balance the numerous aspects of a sea-basing issue.

For more information

The Ship Suitability Team has developed a comprehensive Web-based library and database of ship suitability requirements, photos and reference material. Most can be viewed at the team's site on the Boeing Web at https:// projects/shipsuit/ For more information on ship suitability, contact Bill Laingen at (314) 233-8466.








For example, the Ship Suitability Team recently helped Boeing and U.S. Navy management make a well-balanced decision on whether to develop a "kickstand" for an aircraft. The kickstand was a blade of metal mounted to the underside of the aft fuselage to fend off the cable of a towed decoy. The Ship Suitability Team studied all the operational implications of the decoy wire getting fouled on the aircraft and tailhook, including such aspects as clearances and hazards to personnel.

"We try to fill out the overall picture of the operational and design environment," explained Bill Laingen, Boeing IDS manager of the Ship Suitability Team. "When a program manager is putting together a team for a Navy or joint proposal or program, ideally he or she would add a ship suitability engineer into the mix" to ensure that issues related to ship suitability are considered and understood from the outset, Laingen said.

The value of the Ship Suitability Team seems apparent now, but that wasn't always the case. Before 1986, when McDonnell Douglas formed a specific group dedicated to handling issues of ship suitability, engineers and others had to rely on the tribal knowledge of a few employees who were U.S. Navy veterans to help them understand the operational procedures, limitations, nomenclature, equipment and tactics of this relatively unfamiliar environment. Today, Boeing IDS has a much more structured program with dedicated personnel, tools, processes and training.

The Ship Suitability Team does more than work out problems of form, fit and function, however. A large part of the team's job is training to get the most out of its few members.

The team offers a 16-hour course in carrier operations. The course provides students with information on the impact of sea basing on aircraft and other systems. Laingen described it as a comprehensive overview of naval operations taught by Boeing instructors with extensive background in carrier flight operations and support.

The course includes a simulated shipboard operations exercise in which students use a 15-foot-long model of an aircraft carrier and its air wing to meet a flight schedule and perform the tasks done by aircraft handlers aboard a ship. This exercise quickly points out the complications of carrier operations--and the effects of seemingly unimportant design decisions.

Joe Ihlan, Dave Bikker and Eric MuehleSeveral times a year, the group works with the U.S. Navy to arrange carrier trips for Boeing employees. The trips, which last about four days and are always led by a Boeing tour guide, allow the engineers to experience life at sea, observe flight and maintenance operations, and get a taste of the needs and limitations the sailors experience in working with Boeing products. They also supply invaluable feedback to Boeing teammates from the fleet.

"The carrier trips offer some of the greatest 'hands-on' training our engineers can get," said Joe Chartrand, one of the Boeing tour guides. A recent ship visitor, Red Singleton, of the Boeing IDS Tactical Aircraft Delivery & Support Operations team, said of his experience: "To watch the punishment the airframe takes says a whole bunch for the people who created, designed, developed and assembled the F/A-18E. Seeing how our product is used and maintained really gives me a sense of pride for the product I am a part of."

Recent challenges have expanded the Ship Suitability Team's focus beyond that of operations on large aircraft carriers. It now includes operational compatibility on amphibious assault ships, destroyers and frigates, and austere landing fields ashore. The team is working on expanding its scope even further to "basing suitability," which encompasses operational nuances of basing weapon systems that are not covered by other groups in the company.


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