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Workers Resurrect C-130 for New Duty in Tunisia

Workers Resurrect C-130 for New Duty in Tunisia

By Gary Boyle, Ogden Air Logistic Center Public Affairs.

Hill Air Force Base, Utah -- (AFPN) April 25, 2002 -- A C-130B Hercules is on its way to Tunisia, through the efforts of the aircraft directorate here following a sale to the Tunisian air force by the State Department.

A resurrected 1958 C-130B sits ready for delivery to the Tunisian air force. The aircraft had been cocooned at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., since 1993 and has approximately 22,000 flight hours.

Photo by Gary Boyle

The 1958 aircraft had been cocooned at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., since 1993 and had approximately 22,000 flight hours. Though the plane was in relatively good shape for its age, it took a cadre of workers to get the plane ready for its new assignment across the Atlantic in North Africa.

"A unique project like this takes a concentrated effort from a lot of people in a lot of different departments," said Mike Martinez, the prime planner for the project. "Planning is vital for this kind of effort. We had to be ready for everything and anything. Getting an aircraft this old up and flying is more complicated than a newer model because many of the parts simply don't exist any more."

The plane arrived here July 17, and the search for parts began.

"Eddie Alvarado did a worldwide search for parts to make sure those would be there for our use. This is the type of task that puts everyone's abilities to the test and shows off what can be done when things need to get done," said Francine Waite, chief of C-130 material support. "We had to replace a lot of parts so what we couldn't find we had to manufacture locally."

The plane's paint was stripped and then repainted in the color of the Tunisian air force. The paint had to be special ordered and the job had to be done to the country's specific requirements.

As work on the plane began, technicians had to operate on electrical systems still using tubes and on parts that had not been used since the plane went into storage in 1993.

"We had to redo almost everything and manufacture a lot of parts, we even had to manufacture the wing skins," said Fred Bently, dock supervisor. "This is a practically brand new plane. There were about 75 people on the production line that put in thousands of hours to get this bird in the sky."

Taking the four-turboprop plane to the sky for the first time after its repair was the responsibility of the 514th Flight Test Squadron here.

The age and the mission of the plane required the aircraft be given to the Tunisians in perfect condition so multiple test flights were required to ensure the plane would be ready.

"We took as many flights as we had to, to make sure the Tunisians were happy and all the bugs were worked out, but this plane is in better shape now than some similar planes in our C-130 fleet," said Lt. Col. Jeff Rodseth, 514th FTS commander. "The B model has short legs with a flying time of about eight to 10 hours, but it makes up the difference with speed and handling. The C-130B is the sports model of this type of aircraft."

Before the Tunisian flight crew took possession of their new aircraft, they wanted to take it out for themselves. Regulations stipulate before that can happen, the customer must take possession of the plane thus eliminating Air Force Materiel Command's responsibility for possible damage done to the aircraft by the flight crew. The solution was to fly the aircraft with a mix of AFMC and foreign flight crews.

"The waiver usually takes about a month to go through command. We needed ours in five days and it has to come from (AFMC commander) Gen. (Lester) Lyles," said Col. Richard Dugan, director of the aircraft directorate. "Major Peter Oerpel was instrumental in getting it done in that time. Otherwise who knows where we'd be right now."

During flight tests, a problem was found with the propeller brakes. These brakes stop the propeller from spinning if the engine malfunctions, allowing the pilot to better fly the plane in a straight line.

"The Tunisians were all of the sudden looking at the prospect of staying here an extra week," said Martinez. "But they told us of something they had learned from the Greeks. At first we were skeptical -- after all, we thought, what could these guys show us? We work on these planes all the time; we build them. It turned out to be an idea that could save our country millions."

The Tunisian air force flight crew gets comfortable with their newest aircraft, a refitted 1958 C-130B. The crew flew the plane across the Atlantic using a global positioning system device and had to make two refueling stops before reaching home.

Photo by Gary Boyle

The Tunisians, lacking the depot support America's military enjoys, had found a quick fix that was relatively easy and effective.

"We took out the starter to get to a seal area which leads to a direct line to the prop break. Then we sprayed in a cleaning solvent, a degreaser, to flush the brake," said John Vasquez, a foreman who carried out the procedure the Saturday before the Tunisians were scheduled to begin their trip home. "I wanted to get this bird off the ground as bad as they did and this procedure did the trick. We're going to try it out on some other engines and if it works consistently it could save countless work hours and millions of dollars."

The procedure is already in Air Force intermediate manuals and Vasquez and others are qualified to do the work.

"The Tunisians showed us what they wanted from our manuals and any time we can come up with a fix like this at a time like this it helps out tremendously," said Vasquez. "After they came back from their test flight they were all smiles and thumbs up. They were great to work with and I learned something in the process. A positive can do attitude is what got that bird back into flight."

"I flew the plane over the hangar so everyone could see it airborne and when I looked down I could see everybody jumping up and down and pumping their fists in the air. The pride these people took in doing their job and making sure the Tunisians would get a quality aircraft impresses me to no end," said Rodseth. "With regular maintenance and updates in avionics there is no reason why this plane won't fly forever."

The Tunisians were also impressed with Hill's workmanship. Before returning home the crew is going back to Davis-Monthan to look over more aircraft and are thinking of sending some of their planes to Hill for maintenance work.

Afterward, the flight crew will go to Andrews AFB, Md., before flying to Portugal and then Tunisia.

"There were so many people involved in getting this plane off the ground. From a four-star general to mechanics, all of them united with one purpose to provide an ally with a plane that flies right and is worry free," said Martinez. "A plane this age takes extra effort and takes a lot of tweaking to get it to perform up to expectations, but our people were up to the challenge as always."

(Courtesy of AFMC News Service)

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).