US Navy, February 18, 2021 - CHERRY POINT, NC by John Olmstead - Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) marked the end of an era when artisans recently boxed up the last T58-GE-400B presidential helicopter engine and shipped it out to the Marines who provide safe and timely transportation of the President of the United States.
The current version of the presidential helicopter FRCE supports, the VH-3D Sea King, is scheduled to be replaced by the newer VH-92A presidential helicopter in 2021.
The maintenance, repair and overhaul center located aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, has worked with the Presidential Helicopter Program, also known as the Gold Plate Program, for more than five decades.
Based on FRCE’s experience and reputation for quality products, the program is already in motion at FRCE to transition their support to the VH-92A.
“I am very proud of FRC East’s long history of supporting the Presidential Helicopter Program,” said FRCE Commanding Officer Capt. Mark E. Nieto. “Our workforce has supported this very important mission with a great deal of pride and distinction. We are looking forward to supporting the new platform.”
FRCE began working with the presidential helicopter in 1967, when the organization was known as the Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF).
The General Electric T58-GE-8C engines produced at the facility powered the VH-3A version of the Sea King helicopter in support of Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1). The VH-3A helicopter was a modified version of the Sikorsky H-3 Sea King antisubmarine helicopter designed to provide short-range helicopter transportation to the president.
In the years since, the program has transitioned through two engine upgrades before adopting the T58-GE-400B in 1985, which is the configuration still in use today.
Many of the aviation maintenance professionals who have worked with the Gold Plate Program said the importance of the mission gave them a great sense of pride and accomplishment.
“As a mechanic, when you build something, watch it get tested and pass inspection and watch it go out and do what it’s designed to do – that’s satisfaction,” said Charles Morgan, a pneudraulics systems mechanic who started with the program in 2005. “It’s the pride in knowing that you had a part in the helicopter that’s flying the president.”
“I’ve worked for five different presidents,” said Dan Smith, a logistics specialist who has been with FRCE since 1983 and with the program since the early 1990s. Smith retired from FRCE in 2016, but was asked to come back in 2018. “I was honored to come back to the Gold Plate Program. I got to meet new people, some of them the sons of fathers I used to work with.”
FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot generates combat air power for America’s Marines and naval forces while serving as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.