MCAS Cherry Point News


Cherry Point Harrier engineer retires after 30 years

14 Oct 2014 | Cpl. Grace L. Waladkewics

Growing up in Asheville, N.C., George Russell was no stranger to the military or the aircraft he heard flying overhead.

From the time Russell was a child, he was fascinated by the world of aviation, knowing from before he can remember that he wanted to be a part of it in some way.

Sitting in his modest home just outside the front gate of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., only weeks after retiring with 30 years of loyal and dedicated work as an airframes engineer and engine program specialist, Russell recalled his early days in the field of aviation.

“I always enjoyed airplanes and flying,” said Russell. “I got my private pilot license in high school and I thoroughly loved everything about the flying business. It was just an interesting and fun subject area to learn more about.”

Upon graduation from North Carolina State University, with a degree in Aerospace Engineering, Russell began his journey into his future aviation career. After feeling discouraged by the lack of job opportunities, Russell stumbled upon a listing for a job at Cherry Point working as an engineer. Russell took the job. Little did he know, that sunny summer day in 1982, the first day he stepped foot onto the flight line of Cherry Point, would change his life.

At the start of what would one day become his legacy, Russell worked as a production support engineer on the Harrier Program with Fleet Readiness Center East.

Although he worked alongside Sailors, Marines and civilian Department of Defense personnel, his primary mission was to provide support. His duties included ensuring the efficiency of his engineering skills to maintain the safety of the service members inside the aircraft.

According to Russell, throughout his long and often daunting career, he was honored time and again as he participated in several projects that directly led to advancements and improvements to what is now the Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier.

Russell initially worked on the airframes of the earlier Harrier which he describes as the original “bare-bones model.”

“During the middle of the 1980s, the Marine Corps advanced on to the AV-8B Harrier,” said Russell. “It had great improvements such as expanded mission capabilities, higher efficiency, weapons system complexity and it was a viable, useful aircraft for the Marine Corps.”

The unique nature of the Corps’ mission sets an “any climb any place” mentality making the AV-8B so well-suited for the Marines. Its vertical takeoff and landing ability means a short strip of dirt road or a landing helicopter dock are both suitable locations for the aircraft to takeoff or land.

As Russell’s expertise grew, co-workers came to him with questions and to learn some of his skills. He began leading his peers and paving the way for engineers that would come after him.

“As I moved along in my career, I began writing maintenance plans in great detail,” said Russell. “Reliability Centered Maintenance, or RCM as we called it, was a way for us to ensure that all maintenance done on the aircraft was technically justified and was being done in the best possible fashion for the benefit of the Marine Corps.”

As his job transformed from an airframes engineer to an engine program specialist, his contributions to the Harrier program multiplied.

“My part was mainly reviewing and writing maintenance plans,” said Russell. “As a part of RCM, we introduced something new called the age exploration program.”

He became co-author of the first Navy handbook on age exploration, which discussed what it was and how the engineers collected data to make informed decisions on scheduled maintenance programs.

He was also involved with the first deployment of Harriers. He learned the aircraft inside and out. His vast knowledge of the aircraft and his interaction with the Marines who operated it enabled him to know what they needed and when they needed it.

“The needs and challenges that the Marines faced rolled over into our business,” said Russell. “We had to find ways to support them so they could do what they had to do, and our goal at all times was to keep them safe.”

According to Russell, whether the Marines were deployed or training stateside, his team of engineers were always in communication and ready to assist with any issues that came up, regardless of the time or place.

As technology continued to advance, Russell’s team continued to make leaps and bounds to keep up with the growing demand to keep the Harrier fleet on the forward edge.

“The most rewarding part of my career has been seeing the Marines successfully doing their job because of the time I put in to do my job right,” said Russell. “As I led teams and began focusing on special projects, I had a hand in building the AV-8B Harrier remanufacture program.”

Due to budget shortfalls during previous years, new aircraft were not being manufactured and distributed to the armed services, explained Russell. That is where the idea for the remanufacture program came in. It was designed as a way to take serviceable components from used aircraft and rework them into a better design for a new airplane for the Marine Corps.

The program was a success and ended up saving more than a third of the original cost to build radar-equipped Harriers.

The road to successes was not always an easy one for Russell. Perseverance was the thing that has gotten him through his hardest days, he said.

“Two years ago, on Oct. 9, 2012, I can remember I was in the hospital receiving chemotherapy for a rare form of lymphoma,” said Russell. “It is because of the team of support I had behind me that I healed from my cancer. I used the perseverance that a life of engineering has taught me. Now, my focus is on taking care of my family and friends because no one has a career like this by themselves. Everyone around me has been my support structure and perseverance and mission completion isn’t accomplished alone.”

Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point