Different Centuries, Different Awards, Same Excellence
To paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. If a boy rolls a ball, it tends to roll until friction, a wall or another child catches it. If a girl rides a bike, once she puts on the brakes, it still takes some time to come to a complete stop.
But when that object is a jet aircraft that weighs thousands of pounds traveling at speeds approaching 150 miles an hour and needs to stop on an aircraft carrier in two seconds—less time than it takes to read this sentence—there had better be something extremely strong and totally reliable to stop it from moving right off the deck of the aircraft carrier and into the ocean.
The feat of physics, engineering and manufacturing that makes it possible for skilled pilots to perform such a task is due to the arresting cables on the aircraft carrier and the hook shank attached to the landing aircraft that catches the cables.
As Didier Chironi, regional sales manager of SIFCO Forge, simply puts it: “That hook shank takes a lot of abuse.”
Indeed it does, so in 2010, when the United States Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) was faced with a shortage of hook shanks for their T-45 Goshawk—a tandem-seat, carrier-capable jet trainer used to train Navy and Marine Corps pilots—SIFCO was selected to help keep the Goshawk landing safely.
As had been the case before, when the U.S. Navy came to SIFCO, lives again were at stake. There was no margin for error, for the Goshawk was the training plane of every Navy and Marine pilot. Although the Goshawk was at the tail end of its production life, the Navy nonetheless needed more hook shanks. A NAVAIR SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) program awarded QuesTek Innovations, LLC, an Illinois company that invents and designs new materials, to develop the special material that SIFCO would forge. QuesTek came up with a new, extremely strong material with enhanced corrosion resistance: Ferrium® M54™.
There was another challenge. The old hook shank tooling had been destroyed. New tooling would now have to be designed and created by SIFCO, so a rapid development program was launched.
Chironi, who helped guide the project from SIFCO’s standpoint, praised the “smart engineers at QuesTek.” Once those smart engineers completed the development of the material in 2010, SIFCO received the purchase order for the actual part in July 2011. A third company, Latrobe Specialty Metals in Pennsylvania, manufactured the alloy, and a fourth, Pankl Aerospace in California, machined the forgings.
SIFCO did one more thing before it forged the parts: It made 3D simulations for the forgings in order to examine the behavior of the metal. This material needed to be, Chironi said, “a forging material for today as well as the future.”
After SIFCO met and exceeded expectation, it delivered the forged hook shanks to NAVAIR at the end of 2011.
NAVAIR expressed its appreciation to the team of SIFCO, QuesTek and Latrobe Specialty Metals on November 20, 2012, when United States Navy Rear Adm. Randolph L. Mahr, the commander of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division and assistant commander for Research and Engineering, Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Maryland, awarded representatives from the team at the Twelfth Annual Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Commander’s and Innovation Awards Ceremony.
Chironi, as well as Engineering Manager Owen Brown and Modeling and Simulation Manager Greg Petrus, each received the certificates on behalf of SIFCO.
“SIFCO enjoys being the small business that helps to solve the problem for the large organization,” Chironi said. He noted that the U.S. government likes to work with small businesses, and that “SIFCO is a good fit for that.”
The Navy backs up Chironi’s opinion. According to the Naval Air Warfare Center Commander’s guest blog dated July 6, 2012, written by Emily Harman, associate director of NAVAIR Office of Small Business, and Ken Carkhuff, NAWCAD (Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division) small business deputy: “Those of us in government should encourage participation of new competitive suppliers that renew and refresh technology. That ensures that the products and services delivered to the warfighter benefit from innovation.”
Chironi estimated that there were about 250 people at the awards ceremony. Twenty-one Commander’s Awards and three Innovation Awards were presented to various teams. The team of SIFCO, QuesTek, Pankl and Latrobe were recognized—along with NAVAIR Engineers & Program Management, who contributed to the hook shank effort—with a NAWCAD Commander’s Award. Each individual awarded received a Certificate of Appreciation as a member of the “T-45 Hook Shank Production Restart Team.” The award read:
“Awarded in recognition of your significant achievements and exceptional teamwork in support of the fleet and the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s mission. Your exemplary performance and unswerving dedication to duty bring great credit upon yourself, the Naval Warfare Center Aircraft Division, and the Department of the Navy. I personally want to thank you for a job ‘Well Done!’”—(signed by) R.L. Mahr, Rear Admiral, United States Navy, Commander.
Although far from a “new” supplier, SIFCO acted as a competitive innovator, the kind needed by NAVAIR. Its mission of aiding the U.S. Navy with critical needs in times of conflict—as well as in times of peace—was first recognized 70 years ago.
And there’s no reason to think that the coming years and decades will be any different.