Keeping the C-130s Flying: Center Wing Box Replacements
The USA’s C-130E medium transport aircraft first entered service in 1962, so it’s no surprise that some are rather the worse for wear. What did surprise people was how many of them were about to fly their wings off – and not just as a figure of speech. On February 14, 2005, the US Air Force announced that they were grounding nearly 100 C-130E models because of severe fatigue in their wings, including a dozen that had been flying missions in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The C-130 System Program Office at Robins Air Force Base, GA recommended the grounding after inspections of the center wing box structure, which sits atop the fuselage and forms the attachment point for both wings and all four engines, revealed cracks. These kinds of sudden problems come with aging aircraft fleets; as one can see, the effects can be far-reaching.
By November 2006, the USAF had kept 47 aircraft under flying restrictions, plus another 30 completely grounded because of the cracks. Other aircraft are expected to wear out as they fly, however, and the replacement program doesn’t expect to get ahead of the “grounding-restriction curve” until 2012. The USAF prices full center wing box replacement at $6.5-$7 million, and expects to convert about 18 aircraft per year at peak production. By 2020, 155 C-130s will have new center wing boxes from the C-130J production line. Needless to say, the 402nd Aircraft Maintenance Group at Robins AFB is a busy unit.
At least the new contract, which covers a number of unusual C-130 variants as well as the C-130H models, will keep the funding coming…
Contracts and Key Milestones
Unless otherwise indicated, the Headquarters Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins Air Force Base, GA issued the contracts.
March 30/07: Lockheed Martin Corp. in Marietta, GA received a $622.6 million firm fixed, time and material, cost-plus-fixed fee, and cost reimbursement no fee contract. At this time, $81.6 million has been obligated. Solicitations began January 2007, negotiations were complete March 2007, and work will be complete January 2013 (FA8504-07-D-0003).
This contract covers the Center Wing Box Replacement Program for 6 C-130 Hercules variants, and consists of nonrecurring engineering (NRE) support; replenishment spare panel parts, spare parts, bench stock, center wing component modification kits, engineering support for trial kit installs, data, travel, and nonrecurring engineering changes (Delta NRE) for these 6 mission design series:
- The C-130H transport. Deliveries of this model began in 1974-1975, and continued through to 1996; over 350 were produced for the USA.
- EC-130H Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft
- Special Forces (SOCOM) AC-130U “Spooky” gunship
- SOCOM’s HC-130N and HC-130P “Kingbird” combat search-and-rescue models
- SOCOM’s MC-130H Combat Talon II
Additional Readings & Sources
- GlobalSecurity.org – C-130E Hercules
- NASA Langley – Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules. Details numerous collaborative projects re: the C-130, including mixed and full composite center wing boxes installed under programs in the 1970s and 1980s.
- National Defense Magazine (May 2007) – Air Force Gunships Could Be Grounded. Discusses the USAF’s proposed replacement for the AC-130 gunships – the answer appears to be “there isn’t one, we’d rather focus on bombers.”
- Boeing (July 19/06) – Boeing Announces C-130 Total Life Extension Program. Includes a patent-pending center wing box fix for some planes, which doesn’t have to rip the structure from the airplane. At that time, their fix was entering the testing stage.
- USAF (Nov 15/06) – Air logistics center upgrades center wing boxes on C-130s