ECU engineering alumnus supports military through work at FRC East
John Hinson left East Carolina University as a member of the school’s second graduating class of engineers in 2009.
This month, he’s celebrating 10 years of employment with the Fleet Readiness Center East (FRC East) aircraft maintenance and repair depot at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point where he’s responsible for ensuring that the test equipment is working properly.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s been 10 years,” Hinson said. “It’s gone by pretty quick.”
FRC East’s main mission is to provide maintenance, engineering and logistics support for Navy, Marine Corps and other military aircraft. Hinson’s role in that is to make sure the equipment that tests all the various aircraft components works properly, so no bad parts ever make it onto a military jet or helicopter.
“The depot rebuilds the aircraft components, and once they get through rebuilding it, they’ll put it on a test stand to make sure it passes the criteria to make sure that it is a good component,” said Hinson, whose official job title is national test equipment lead. “My team is responsible for making sure all those test stands are operating correctly. It’s wide-ranging stuff that basically covers any part on the aircraft.
“With the test equipment, we’re making sure that we are putting out a quality product. Our test stands are the last stop to make sure everything is right. We’re functionally checking things. We’re making sure that the item going out the door is air worthy and is a quality product. That’s a huge focus for us — quality.”
Workers at FRC East perform maintenance and repairs on all types of aircraft, from big CH-53K Stallion helicopters, to V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft that can fly like a plane and hover like a helicopter and the latest fifth-generation military fighter jet, the F-35 Lightning II.
“It’s constantly changing,” Hinson said of the work.
It’s a job he said he was prepared for thanks to the engineering program in the College of Engineering and Technology.
“The biggest thing and what brought me to ECU and what helped me was the smaller class sizes,” Hinson said. “I felt like I had more time with the professors and more opportunities to talk to them, to go through things with them if you were having problems. And, we had a lot of group projects. In every class they always wanted you to do group projects where you worked together as a team. That definitely helps you prepare for a career of any kind, because in a real-world work environment, in very few cases are you working by yourself. You are working with a team of people, and not just engineers but people of all different backgrounds. The involvement with the projects was definitely helpful.
“It certainly laid the foundation. You learn a lot of it on the job, but you have to get the foundation, so you know at least conceptionally what is going on to do the job.”
Hinson said FRC East has been doing a lot of work with ECU’s Department of Engineering recently, including a number of capstone projects for seniors who get real-world exposure to engineering and problem-solving scenarios.
“We do a lot of outreach with senior projects and things like that with East Carolina and a lot of the colleges,” Hinson said. “I’ve been involved with three or four of the capstone projects. We try to really tailor it so it’s a good experience for the students. We try to make sure that it’s got all of the elements, not only with the technical part like planning, but also the financial part of it, so it’s a good project for the students.”
FRC East employs about 3,800 people, making it the largest employer in North Carolina east of Interstate 95. About 1,000 of those are engineers. The depot has been making an effort to look to East Carolina for its workforce. It currently employs 73 ECU engineering graduates and hosted about 15 ECU engineering students as part of its internship program this summer.
“The past three or four years, there’s been a ton of ECU folks coming in,” Hinson said. “They definitely seem to be hiring more from ECU, which is good. A lot of times people who come to ECU are local and they want to stay in the area. It’s always nice to find some local people who are going to stay in the area. It’s good to find that local talent that is going to stay with you awhile.”
Hinson, who lives just outside of Kinston, is the longest-tenured ECU engineering graduate working at FRC East. His wife Jessica, who graduated from ECU in 2011, teaches fifth grade at Banks Elementary School in Kinston.
Hinson said he enjoys working at FRC East, knowing that he as a civilian has a role in making sure those who serve our country have what they need to get the job done.
“It gives you a sense of pride,” Hinson said. “I know most people have that in their jobs, but it is special to know what you’re doing has a direct tieback to supporting the warfighters. That’s what it’s all about, making sure those guys have what they need.”
— By Ken Buday, University Communications