Delivering Your Plane, By Truck
As part of Taiwan’s much-reported military modernization program, it’s ordering 12 P-3C Orion sea control aircraft to monitor its sea lanes, hunt enemy submarines, and make life dangerous for any ships in an invasion force. While Lockheed Martin was forced to re-open a wing line in Georgia, the main production line isn’t active any more. As a result, all 12 of the mothballed P-3s slated for Taiwan have to come from stored US Navy aircraft at AMARG’s “boneyard” near Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, AZ. The problem is that all 12 airframes were labeled “non-flyable” due to structural fatigue, which made the 2,000 mile trip to the refurbishment facility in Greenville, SC, a bit of a challenge.
After considering and rejecting rail transport due to offloading and re-loading risks, the AMARG team decided to use a flatbed truck. That’s an unusual method, but it worked. Their approach has stirred interest from other P-3 operators, and even US federal government agencies…
The process was anything but straightforward, and called for considerable customization. The AMARG team had to pull blueprints for the old BL-65 tool from the original production line, modify it, and build a custom cradle for the truck. The BL-65 tool was modified to fasten the fuselage securely to that cradle, which needed to prevent any bending or twisting. Just as a twisted auto frame can turn even a lightly damaged car a write-off, a bent or twisted fuselage could make the P-3 permanently unsafe for flight.
Once the team designed and built all the specialized components, the aircraft was disassembled and loaded onto 9 trucks: 4 oversize flatbeds for the fuselage, wings, empennage (entire tail assembly) and related horizontal tail section; and 5 trucks for crated components. The engines, propellers and landing gear will be shipped separately to various depots for repair and overhaul, prior to final delivery to Greenville.
AMARG accomplished the feat under budget and earlier than the allotted 6 months, and extensive symmetry and alignment tests on the fuselage in Greenville, SC found that the aircraft stayed true to shape during transport.
The second P-3 is already undergoing dis-assembly by AMARG, and the remaining aircraft will be transported over the next 3 years. The final aircraft is scheduled to leave Davis-Monthan AFB in June 2013. Meanwhile, AMARG’s innovative transport method is attracting interest from the US Forest Service, US Homeland Security, and other global P-3 operators. NAVAIR release.