UCAR > Communications > UCAR Quarterly > Winter 2000 Search

Winter 2000

C-130 gets a clean bill of health

by Bob Henson

During the inspection, the C-130 was liberally dotted with red flags (which appear dark in this photo) indicating areas of concern. (Photo courtesy Jeffrey Stith.)

A team of crackerjack inspectors in Canada took everything but the wings off the NSF/NCAR C-130 aircraft this fall in the plane's most thorough inspection since it was built in 1985. It was a matter of routine maintenance, albeit on a much larger scale than usual. Every three months the plane undergoes a progressive inspection, and every four years a different part of the plane gets a closer inspection. As part of an overall 12-year maintenance cycle, the entire plane gets a complete corrosion inspection. (All this is in keeping with manufacturer's recommendations from Lockheed.)

On 2 October, pilots Henry Boynton, Lowell Genzlinger, and Ed Ringleman of NCAR's Research Aviation Facility took the C-130 to the Edmonton, Canada, airport. That's the home of Spar, a certified C-130 repair facility. RAF's aircraft mechanics have taken turns visiting Edmonton to keep an eye on the maintenance work, and the facility's technicians have also been on hand.

Like a dentist hunting for hidden pockets of decay, the inspectors' main goal was to find out-of-sight places where corrosion was taking hold. Chief among the silent enemies of the C-130 is aluminum oxide. As many as 20 people at a time from Spar combed virtually all of the C-130's exterior skin. The team also kept an eye out for places where the plane's body appeared stressed or where electronics might be compromised.

Not every nut and bolt was removed to get a good view, but "it's pretty darn close," says Ringleman, C-130 copilot and chief of aircraft maintenance for RAF. The visual check was supplemented by X rays of key areas. Each point of concern was flagged with a small red sign that read "DEVIATING PART."

Overall, the C-130 got through its inspection with better-than-average marks, says Jeffrey Stith, manager of RAF. "The main structural parts of the aircraft were in good condition, more like a newer aircraft than some of the older C-130s that are still in service." Because of the plane's low-altitude flights for the Navy and later for NCAR, some corrosion was found in external wing panels, prompting a number of them to be replaced or repaired. About 230 spots in all needed special attention and repair work, but most of these fixes were quite minor.

The plane is also getting new, low-flight-time engines and a replacement for part of its fuel tank, courtesy of a spare C-130 acquired last year as surplus from NASA and now "resting comfortably" on private land near Tucson, Arizona. The C-130's propellers are also being overhauled.

All told, the inspection has taken about 13,000 person-hours for the dismantling, checkup, and reassembling, plus another 10,000 for on-site repairs. "It takes a lot of work to find small problems and fix them before they turn into big problems," says Stith. "If we had tried to do this in house, it would have taken two years and several million dollars' worth of specialized equipment."

Spar's last job will be to repaint the C-130 with a new, blue-and-white design featuring NSF's and NCAR's logos. A few final tasks will be done at RAF's base (Jefferson County Airport in Broomfield, Colorado). In March, the aircraft will head across the Pacific for its next big project, the Aerosol Characterization Experiment–Asia.

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Last revised: Wed Feb 7 15:34:33 MST 2001