End of an era: Air Force, Team Dover say goodbye to last TF-39 engine
By Staff Sgt. Aaron J. Jenne, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 20, 2018
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Members of the 436th Maintenance Squadron gathered together at the Jet Engine Intermediate Level Maintenance shop Feb. 16, 2018, to bid farewell to the very last General Electric TF-39 turbofan engine.
For 45 years, Team Dover’s JEIM shop maintained and rebuilt these engines. Maintainers stripped the engines completely to their components over a grueling 75-day process to diagnose and repair issues. They were equipped to work on 13 engines at once. Since the shop opened, the Airmen rebuilt 5,601 engines.
The shop officially closed two years ago as the Air Force’s contingent of C-5A/B Galaxies were being modernized into the C-5M Super Galaxy fleet of today’s mobility force, but the lights stayed on as its members prepared the remaining engines to be sold.
“A gradual conversion of the C-5A/B legacy aircraft to the C-5M has meant many modern changes to include new engines,” said Kevin Morrow, 436th MXS aerospace propulsion engine mechanic supervisor. “The change to the GE CF6-80 engines used on the C-5M made the GE TF-39 engines built here at the Dover AFB JEIM shop obsolete.”
The new CF6-80 engines produce more thrust, are more fuel efficient and produce less noise pollution than the decommissioned TF-39s.
“It’s sad to see [the TF-39] go, but I’ve recently gone to a class on the new engine, and I can see how much the technology has changed,” said Daniel Weimer, 436th MXS aerospace propulsion engine mechanic. “It’s time for this engine to be put down. Us old jet engine mechanics feel like we’re veterinarians for a dinosaur; we’re kind of useless.”
Weimer has worked at Dover AFB for 50 years, and on the TF-39 engine since it arrived at Dover. His career started at the “rickety, outside test cell on the far side of the base.” He saw the new JEIM shop being built, watched the first TF-39 engine as it was rolled in, and rebuilt the last one completed by the shop, serial number 441052, in March 2016.
While the JEIM shop was still rebuilding TF-39 engines for the Air Force’s C-5A/B fleet, the modernization process necessitated the engine’s reclamation process as early as 2012.
Through 2015, the engines were turned in to the Defense Logistics Agency and the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office, where they were basically sold for salvage, Morrow said. The money gained from this process was recuperated to the U.S. Treasury.
Since 2015, 144 TF-39 engines were turned in through a joint process involving the Air Force and General Electric. The JEIM shop had to process an average of six engines each month to prepare them for transportation to a metals reclamation company in Monroe, North Carolina. This exchange allowed the Air Force to recuperate $1.38 million.
“There were some good times and some bad times,” Weimer said. “We blew up a few engines, and we had a few problems in the test cell. It’s all one big memory. There’s good and bad, but you learn from it. That’s the experience, and that’s what makes it so sad that this is going away.”
Unlike the engines, Team Dover isn’t saying goodbye to all the Airmen of the JEIM Shop. While some are retiring, others are headed to the C-5 Isochronal Inspection Dock where they will bring with them their years of experience working on jet engines.
“I am proud to say that I was able to ‘crank wrenches’ with many mechanics, past and present, who have become part of the propulsion flight family, most specifically the ‘ten brothers in arms,’ or last men standing who have facilitated the closure of this shop,” Morrow said. “I would be remiss in not mentioning their names: Daniel Weimer, Robert Burkhamer, Matthew Farren, Jeffrey Martindale, Michael Tatum, Travis Olsen, Chad Bryant, Master Sgt. Randy Bulloch, Staff Sgt. Lawrence Leonard and Senior Airman Dylan Bruce. The closure of the TF-39 shop is bittersweet, for we knew this day would finally come; however, we are all looking ahead with proactive feelings for the future.”