C-130 Readiness

Coast Guard aviation maintenance technicians install a leading edge on an HC-130 Hercules aircraft wing. (U.S. Coast Guard photos by Petty Officer 1st Class Charly Hengen)

Navy Learns from Air Force and Coast Guard

Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve (CNAFR) has approved the standup of a centralized repair facility (CRF) in hopes of increasing C-130T Hercules aircraft availability and saving millions annually.

The CRF concept should improve C-130 isochronal inspections (ISOs) throughput velocity, with the expected benefit of a 25-percent increase in aircraft availability and more than $80 million in annual savings to Navy-unique Fleet Essential Airlift customers, consisting of combatant commands, the Fleet Response Plan and DOD logistics customers worldwide.

The decision from Rear Adm. Michael Crane, CNAFR, comes after a benchmarking study of how the Air Force and Coast Guard maintain their respective C-130 fleets.

Commander Fleet Logistics Support Wing (CFLSW) Commodore Capt. Chad Baker commissioned the benchmarking study in mid-2017, with onsite process evaluations performed at Coast Guard Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), Hurlburt Field, Florida. CFLSW comprises the Navy’s entire medium- and heavy-airlift fleet.

The study found both services employ reliability-centered maintenance (RCM), but in different ways. The Coast Guard divides traditional phased maintenance requirements for the C-130 into discrete tasks on a “maintenance due list” that can be performed independently between flights or in conjunction with unscheduled maintenance, maximizing operational availability for a small fleet that must maintain a high state of readiness for emergencies. Also, instead of performing daily inspections, the Coast Guard opts for weekly checks, reducing maintenance tasks without any apparent safety impacts.

Meanwhile, AFSOC has decreased scheduled inspection requirements significantly by expanding the window between its ISOs. Using a CRF staffed by contractors at Hurlburt Field, AFSOC performs ISOs four times faster than those conducted by Air Force aircraft custodians.

A Coast Guard aviation maintenance technician conducts maintenance on an auxiliary power unit combustion liner. (U.S. Coast Guard photos by Petty Officer 1st Class Charly Hengen)

In contrast, Navy C-130 squadrons operate on a 210-day ISO cycle with an average turnaround time of 40 days. In total, AFSOC C-130s average 19 days in scheduled maintenance across their 540-day cycle, compared to 103 days for Navy C-130s—more than a five-fold difference.

CFLSW is working with Office of the Chief of Naval Operations resource sponsors and the Navy’s C-130 program office to fund implementation of the Coast Guard technical directive to prevent longeron—a longitudinal structural component of an aircraft’s fuselage—corrosion issues on the Navy’s C-130 fleet.

The study also included a tour of the Coast Guard’s C-130 Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, which performs depot maintenance and houses the service’s equivalents of airworthiness and fleet support teams. A key insight from the tour was the center’s development more than a decade ago of a $7,600 kit that has eliminated airframe corrosion and associated periodic inspections in the area of the flight-critical sloping longeron below the aircraft’s bathroom. The area has been a recurrent readiness degrader on CFLSW aircraft.

The center also performs more in-depth, standard depot-level maintenance, which takes up to twice as long as the Air Force and Navy’s standard 135-day preventative maintenance inspection cycles but allows the Coast Guard’s C-130s to operate for four years without major organizational-level phased inspection events.

Other CFLSW initiatives spurred by the benchmarking study include:

  • RCM analysis to optimize intervals between Navy C-130 ISOs
  • Evaluation of an AFSOC tool that uses an aircraft’s estimated time on wing to predict engine failure before its next scheduled ISO, which facilitates engine changes in conjunction with ISOs in a controlled maintenance environment with maximum support rather than during critical, high-priority missions
  • Exploration of partial implementation of a fixer-flyer aircrew man concept in the C-130 community to facilitate expedited fault isolation and readiness recovery during extended missions away from home guard
  • Maximized reuse of experienced C-130 personnel to align more closely with Air Force, Coast Guard and Marine Corps detailing practices, where technicians remain on the same platform for their entire careers. This would deepen technical expertise over time and aligns with the vision of retired Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, who, as commander, Naval Air Forces, said in April 2017, “It is imperative to the future of Naval Aviation that we develop and retain maintenance, logistic and operational experts within our Navy enlisted ratings, particularly at the journeyman and supervisory (E5 thru E8) levels. While initial training serves as a foundation, true expertise in our complex warfighting systems can only be achieved through the accumulation of years of experience and knowledge in a particular type/model/series.” Navy C-130 technicians are currently detailed back to the same airframe less than 38 percent of the time
  • Evaluation of micro vanes, which are proven to improve fuel efficiency by approximately 4.3 percent in the altitude range typically used for FLSW C-130 missions

While the Air Force, Coast Guard and Marine Corps are in the midst of multiyear procurements of new C-130Js, the Navy’s C-130s—which average 25 years of service and are far more in demand than available—are expected to remain in service through the mid-2020s.

Lt. Cmdr. Chris Baxter was the Readiness and Innovation Officer for Fleet Logistics Support Wing.