Under the Microscope

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan Burke,
USS Ronald Reagan Public Affairs

PHILIPPINE SEAUSS Ronald Reagan’s (CVN 76) flight deck holds a variety war-fighting machines – A multitude of air-combat platforms outfitted with perhaps the most advanced information, communications and weapons systems on earth, able to take to the skies at a moment’s notice.

Much like synapses travel through the pilots’ nervous systems to direct the ever so slight motion of their hands, electrical currents flow throughout the aircraft’s inner skeletons of metal and plastic. Their nerves, an intricate construction of wires and circuit card assemblies, guide the aircraft to respond to their pilots’ intuitive and fine-tuned commands.

Here, the relationship between manual input and machine response becomes ever so critical. When travelling at the speed of sound or miles above the deck, one wrong move, delayed response or missed connection can be catastrophic.

Fighting the effects of the corrosive elements, gravitational forces and heat stress, which constantly bombard the many parts of Carrier Air Wing 5 aircraft, are the men and women of Ronald Reagan’s Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD). Within AIMD, the Sailors of the micro/miniature electronics shop (2M) break down, inspect and repair the smallest components of the aircraft’s ‘nervous systems.’

160627-N-OI810-051 PHILIPPINE SEA (June 27, 2016) Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class Nelson Watson, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, replaces a defective connection on an aircraft interface cable assembly. The cable assemble is used to connect to aircraft to test, diagnose, troubleshoot, and perform operational and functional checks of equipment. The USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is on patrol in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan Burke/Released)

160627-N-OI810-051 PHILIPPINE SEA (June 27, 2016) Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class Nelson Watson, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, replaces a defective connection on an aircraft interface cable assembly. The cable assemble is used to connect to aircraft to test, diagnose, troubleshoot, and perform operational and functional checks of equipment. The USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is on patrol in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan Burke/Released)

Microelectronics is the study and fabrication of very small electronic designs, which can incorporate many components including transistors, capacitors, inductors, resistors, diodes, insulators and conductors. While some of these terms may be unfamiliar, they are by the dozens found in everything from cellphones to space shuttles.  These components are often combined in circuit card assemblies (CCA), which house and connect components.

“We do CCA (circuit card assembly) repair,” said Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Tyrel Noneo, AIMD 2M micro/miniature electronic repair shop’s leading petty officer and miniature electronic repair technician, from Fallon, Nevada. “The other work centers will troubleshoot radios, radar boxes, transmitters, etc., and if it needs to be soldered, they’ll call us. That’s why we have these microscopes here, because we work on some really tiny stuff sometimes.”

Aviation electronics technicians who are assigned to commands like Reagan that require 2M support are eligible to obtain their miniature electronic repair technician (MTR) certification.

“If you’re not a certified card holder, you can’t solder,” said Noneo. “When a lot of people think of soldering, they think you’re just melting some solder on there and that’s it. There’re actually very strict criteria, and we can complete a wide variety of repairs. It’s very precise.”

According to Noneo, quality control is a constant concern when working with the electronic components in the 2M work center.

“We’re always generating electricity,” said Noneo. “As you see the blue matting on the floor, you’ll see that in a lot of aviation electronics work centers. It’s meant to hinder electrostatic build up. We also have electrostatic discharge (ESD) mats and ESD straps at each workstation. Basically, this (ESD strap) is grounded to the ship, so now I’m grounded, and can handle electronics now without damaging components.”

According to Noneo, FOD (foreign object damage) is not only a concern on the flight deck and in the hangar bay, but within the aircraft as well; therefore, 2M’s tools are strictly for aviation purposes and maintaining tool accountability is a priority within the work center.

“Not only do we check them at the beginning and end of every shift, but every time somebody goes to begin work on a component, the supervisor is required to check the tools before hand, midway through the job and at the end of the job to make sure we have 100 percent ATAF (all tools accounted for) at all times,” said Noneo. “A good rule of thumb that has been passed down to me over the years, is to touch your tools. We can’t take the chance, that if maybe just the tip of a tool broke off inside the piece of gear and we didn’t catch it, it could cause a short or a fire.  So as we check tools, we’re checking the integrity of the tools, making sure that all the pieces are there. Even if just the tip chipped off, we could spend hours looking for it. We’d have to, because that’s a FOD issue.”

Noneo and Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Jonathan Cobb, a 2M MTR, from Redmond, Washington, are proud to be part of a small community of highly skilled solder technicians within Ronald Reagan’s 2M shop.

“I’ve been doing 2M since 2010,” said Noneo. “I love this job because I like to tinker with stuff. What’s special about this job is that we are allowed to do it because of our certification. In that aspect you sort of feel special – especially if you’re good at it.”

“I had a part that I was troubleshooting for a good three to four hours and I had narrowed it down to a single resistor, which had the strongest signal deviation,” said Cobb. “So I ordered it. The part came in a week later, and I ended up fixing that couple thousand-dollar part for five dollars. That’s all it was. We help keep the aircraft flying and we save the Navy a lot of money.”

Noneo said that having the 2M shop on board Ronald Reagan and having Sailors trained to repair microelectronics in a timely manner are essential to the ship’s combat readiness.

“I feel like we directly contribute because without us, the Navy would be buying new parts all the time,” said Noneo. “We have gear coming in here constantly, every day, all day, even in port. It doesn’t stop.  So you can imagine us replacing those small components here and there. If they had to order brand new CCAs each time they went down, it would be millions of dollars – a huge amount of money-wasted. Instead, you have us here onsite. When you bring it to us, we’re going to fix it on the spot, give it back to you and say have a nice day.”

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