OKINAWA, Japan -- Test Cell Marines with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron-36, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force, are the final checkpoint before the squadrons receive their helicopter engines.
“Test Cell is a system (the Marine Corps) uses to ensure the (helicopter engine) is mechanically sound to be installed on the aircraft,” said Sgt. Augustine Silva, a Test Cell operator with MALS-36.
Every engine mounted in a helicopter must go through Test Cell and pass the required tests administered by engine operators and technicians.
“In the initial flight checks the pilot does an external reading of the systems,” said Cpl. Yuliyan Shvartsman, a Test Cell engine operator. “The pilot doesn’t have a way to check the internal parts of the engine to make sure it’s safe for flying. That’s why the engine comes out here.”
According to Shvartsman there are 14 different tests and checks the engine must undergo before it is allowed to fly. These tests range from leak checks to air intake performance.
“We’re the last security checkpoint before the engines are issued out to the squadrons,” said Shvartsman. “Lives of other Marines (are at stake) and it’s up to us to make sure (the engine) is safe for flying.”
Technicians help give operators the full picture of how the engine is performing, while operators monitor the gauges and output levels of the engine, according to Shvartsman.
“I’m the second set of eyes out there.” said Pfc. Patrick Prince, a Test Cell technician with MALS-36. “(Operators) can’t see the other side of the engine without me. (My) head is a couple of inches away from 4,300 horsepower. (The operators) aren’t close enough to see something small.”
Operators configure the equipment regularly to ensure the readings from the equipment are accurate, according to Shvartsman. If a piece is deemed faulty, Test Cell is able to fix the majority of the issues themselves.
Shvartsman is also a Collateral Duty inspector for the squadron, giving him the final say as to whether the engine passes the examination. He also ensures the tests are completed correctly.
“It’s stressful but as long as you do everything you’re supposed to and make sure everyone is safe, it’s rewarding,” said Shvartsman.
Becoming an engine operator requires extensive training and knowledge of every test and check the engines undergo.
“I train the operators to run the engines,” said Silva, the Test Cell operator qualifier. “(Marines) have to complete on the job training (tracked) by the Advance Skills Management system. They must meet certain requirements and be proficient at running the engine before I qualify them.”
Marines complete three unassisted runs with the engine and numerous certification processes before receiving their qualifications, according to Silva.
Once the engine passes the all tests and is installed on the helicopter, it doesn’t come back to Test Cell unless there is a failure, according to Shvartsman. The engine’s shop mechanics preform the regular maintenance checks.
“Since we run the engine instead of sending it directly out to the squadron, we can avoid (engine) failures during flight,” said Shvartsman. “This is the safety and quality assurance we guarantee for the pilot and everyone aboard the aircraft.”