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NEWS | Sept. 30, 2021

Full Steam Ahead: 87th CES Power Plant drives JB MDL flight testing operations

By Daniel Barney Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs

With 33 years of experience, and the responsibility of supervising a 13-member crew, a typical morning for Mike Lenihan, 87th Civil Engineer Squadron boiler plant operator supervisor, starts with a walk around the 87th CES Power Plant on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. The morning walk-around ensures the safety and good-working order of the plant’s heavy equipment and four high-pressure boilers, whose operation pre-dates Lenihan’s 33 years. The power plant must be kept ready for the potential of daily flight operations.

“The main purpose of the power plant is to provide steam to Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst catapult operations in testing aircraft and launch valves for research and development purposes,” said Lenihan. “My crew and I must keep up with the condition of the plant to support the fleet, in any way possible.”

Lenihan explained the responsibility of maintaining the high-pressure boilers while they are in operation.

“In order to keep our boilers operable, we must make sure that the water is clean through chemical addition and boiler blowdowns,” said Lenihan. “The most difficult part is making sure that the boilers do not lose the flow of water, since the heat in the boilers turns the water into steam, in rapid fashion. My crew is confident enough to make sure that the feed-water pumps are running smoothly and constantly. That is a 24-hour responsibility. Safety is vital in this workplace!”

Lenihan explained how maintaining the high-pressure steam boilers is not only a lot of responsibility, it comes with some serious risks.

“Running high-pressure boilers that produce steam at 100,000 pounds per hour at 1000 PSI during testing operations can be really stressful and dangerous,” said Lenihan. “Some of the equipment that we have here is over 50 years old. It is crucial that the crew performs preventive maintenance checks, such as inserting fresh coatings of oil and grease into our feed-water pumps, cleaning out residue from the water with the use of filter pumps, and making sure that there is an appropriate amount of water going into the boilers,”

In addition, Lenihan proudly talks about his crew of 13 personnel who occupy the power plant and the training process they went through to become effective boiler plant workers and operators.

“The people that I hired here either have experience in working with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), working in oil refineries, or plumbing-related environments, but most of them had limited experience operating high pressure boilers, as there is not much call for it within the industry anymore” Lenihan stated. “With the combined experience that I learned from the Navy and on the job, not only do I instruct them about these boilers through lecture, but I also perform hands-on demonstrations with the crew. No matter how many books you read about boilers, they will not give you the feeling of operating them. Experience is the best teacher!”

Lenihan’s method of teaching helped his crew members to have a better understanding on how to run a power plant in the most responsible manner. He added that it could take more than a year for his crew members to familiarize themselves with the operating process of the power plant. Out of 13 power plant crew members, Brett Thomas, 87th CES boiler plant operator, shares his experience working with Lenihan.

“I learned a lot from various boiler operators before me, especially from Lenihan, who I’ve worked with for over 30 years. He is one of the smartest and fairest people I’ve met. You learn a lot from people like that,” Thomas said. “His extensive knowledge of the power plant and the ability to repair various kinds of equipment are what make him a great supervisor. The crew and I are fortunate that we are able to operate the power plant, due to his presence. We learn from the best!”

Lenihan and Thomas both stated that their experiences working at the plant continue to be simultaneously challenging and rewarding. Despite their number of years working at the plant, they are still learning new things. The 87th CES Power Plant personnel are up to the task to eliminate all potential risks that may lie ahead, while continuing to successfully complete Joint Base MDL flight testing operations.