The Navy plans to have all its C-130 Hercules transport aircraft back up and flying this fiscal year after being grounded in September 2017 over concerns with the aircraft’s four-bladed propellers.
Much of the fleet was put on an operational pause in the weeks following a deadly July 2017 crash of a Marine Corps Forces Reserve KC-130T that killed 15 Marines and one Sailor. That September, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) issued a grounding bulletin removing from service all four-bladed C/KC-130T propellers pending inspection and overhaul or replacement.
To expedite the downed C/KC130Ts’ return to service, the Navy, selected as a replacement propeller the eight-bladed NP2000—the same one used on the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and C-2A Greyhound—and originally planned to include the upgrade in its fiscal 2019 budget. But in March, as part of an omnibus spending package, Congress earmarked $121 million for the project in fiscal 2018, accelerating the upgrade by a year.
“We’ll have all the aircraft up by [fiscal year] ’19 and all the aircraft converted to the NP2000 by [fiscal year] ’20,” said Rear Adm. Scott Conn, director of Air Warfare in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, in Sept. 28 testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces.
A C-130T flew with the NP2000 propellers installed for the first time one day prior to Conn’s testimony. As of then, it was one of two Navy Hercules aircraft to have received the upgrade.
In replacing the propellers, the Navy is leveraging work done by the Air Force, which has already installed the NP2000 on its National Guard aircraft, NAVAIR Commander Rear Adm. G. Dean Peters said in April.
“To be able to take advantage of work that’s already been done with the Air Force and National Guard, there was really no reason to wait” once Congress accelerated the funding, Peters said.
Operated by the Navy Reserve, the Navy Unique Fleet Essential Airlift (NUFEA) fleet “provides the responsive, flexible and rapidly deployable air logistics to support necessary combat operations from the sea,” Conn said.
Spread across five Fleet Logistics Support (VR) Squadrons located in fleet concentration areas across the country, the C-130T fills the requirement for medium lift and outsized cargo, including one particular component that ensures the Hercules will remain in high demand for the foreseeable future.
“It is the only Navy aircraft capable of moving all modules of the F-35 [Lightning II] engine,” Conn said.
“Additionally, the C-130T provides unique capability, delivering passengers and cargo to austere locations, including unprepared fields and runways less than 3,000 feet,” he noted. “And in light of the landscape that we’re in right now strategically, that’s probably an important capability that we need.”
The Navy also operates one additional C-130T—the
famous “Fat Albert” flown by the Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron, better known as the Blue Angels.
Having bought its last C-130T in 1996, the Navy is now looking to recapitalize the fleet, beginning with the advanced procurement of three updated KC-130J aircraft—which are already being flown by the Marines—in fiscal 2023, Conn said.
“It’s not just recapitalizing,” he said. “It’s the modernization of the aircraft. We have to keep them relevant.”
The Navy is also investing $28.5 million into avionics obsolescence upgrades to keep the C-130T compliant with new standards set by the Federal Aviation Administration and International Civil Aviation Organization for air traffic control management systems worldwide.
Meanwhile, an $8.9 million upgrade replacing the C-130T’s steel brakes with carbon alternatives should be completed by fiscal 2020.
“These modernization efforts are critical to maintain the Navy’s logistics support to our deployed forces,” Conn said.
Jeff Newman is a staff writer for Naval Aviation News.