Oops. Using wrong oil damaged three $80 million Navy planes, requiring 6 new engines

By Brock Vergakis
The Virginian-Pilot


Days before the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush set out from Norfolk last month, the Navy had to scramble to fix a major problem with the ship’s squadron of early warning, command and control aircraft.

The engines on three of the squadron’s four E-2C Hawkeyes had been damaged and needed to be replaced.

The culprit?

The wrong oil was used in each $80 million twin-turboprop aircraft.

“The damage occurred over a period of time and it involved the use of a lubricant not approved or specified for these engines,” Naval Air Force Atlantic spokesman Mike Maus said in response to questions from The Virginian-Pilot. “A thorough investigation is being conducted to determine how and why this procedure was allowed.”

An initial estimate placed the damage at at least $2 million, according to the Naval Safety Center, putting it into its most serious classification for damage.

But that figure is automatically based on 15 percent of the cost of all six engines and was made before a full inspection could occur, according to Cmdr. Dave Hecht, a Naval Air Force Atlantic spokesman.

“When the engines are inspected for the damage we are optimistic that the repair costs will be less than $2 million,” Hecht said late Thursday.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the need to replace the engines became apparent, but the Naval Safety Center listed the mishap date as Jan. 19 – two days before the Bush deployed.

The replacements come at a time when the Navy says that half its aircraft can’t fly because they’re awaiting maintenance or lack needed spare parts.

“While our first team on deployment is ready, our bench – the depth of our forces at home – is thin. It has become clear to me that the Navy’s overall readiness has reached its lowest level in many years,” Adm. Bill Moran, vice chief of naval operations, said in prepared testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday in a plea for increased funding.

“Time is running out. Years of sustained deployments and constrained and uncertain funding have resulted in a readiness debt that will take years to pay down.”

The affected Hawkeye squadron consists of four planes and is based at Norfolk Naval Station’s Chambers Field.

It’s unclear how long the investigation will take.

After the maintenance setback, Maus said all four aircraft assigned to the “Bear Aces” of Airborne Early Warning Squadron 124 joined the Bush on deployment the day it left Norfolk.

“The squadron is fully capable of performing” its mission, Naval Air Force Atlantic said in a statement.

The Bush left Norfolk on Jan. 21 on a seven-month deployment. The Bush has been operating in the Mediterranean Sea before transiting to the Middle East. The Bush arrived in Souda Bay, Greece, for a port visit Monday.

Back to Top