UCAR > Communications > Staff Notes Monthly > January 2001 Search


January 2001

The C-130 gets a clean bill of health

The whitish coating in the picture looks as if somebody dabbed a swath of stucco on a wing panel of the NSF/NCAR C-130. RAF manager Jeff Stith points to the photo and says, "This is the kind of thing you find when you look closely at a thirty-million-dollar plane."

A team of crackerjack inspectors in Canada took everything but the wings off the C-130 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, RAF's Henry Boynton, Lowell Genzlinger, and Ed Ringleman took the C-130 to the Edmonton, Canada, airport, the home of Spar, a certified C-130 repair facility. RAF's aircraft mechanics (Robert Olson, Kip Eagan, Brent Kidd, James Nolan, Ray Crnkovich, John Cusack, and Ed) have taken turns visiting Edmonton to keep an eye on the maintenance work and serve as coordinators for RAF. Also on hand: RAF aircraft technicians Kurt Zrubek, John Cowan, and Larry Murphy.

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, the whitish substance that's the equivalent of rust for aluminum surfaces. As many as 20 people at a time from Spar combed virtually all of the C- 130's exterior skin, looking for pockets of oxidation. ("They can only put so many people on the plane before they start bumping into each other," Jeff notes.) The team also kept an eye out for places where the plane's body appeared stressed or where electronics might be compromised.

The nose cone and fuel tanks are two of the many C-130 pieces that came off the aircraft for this fall's corrosion inspection. (Photos courtesy Jeff Stith.)

Not every nut and bolt was removed to get a good view, but "it's pretty darn close," says Ed, 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 (the equivalent of a Post-It) that said "DEVIATING PART."

Overall, the C-130 got through its inspection with better-than-average marks, says Jeff. "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 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.

Looking over photos from the C-130's recent inspection in Canada are Ed Ringleman (left) and Jeff Stith. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

All told, the inspection took 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 Jeff. "If we had tried to do this in house, it would have taken two years and several million dollars' worth of specialized equipment." That's more time than the C- 130 ever has to spare. In March it heads across the Pacific for its next big project, the Aerosol Characterization Experiment–Asia.

• Bob Henson

The C-130 will return to Jeffco in late January with a new look. Watch for details in This Week at UCAR and the next Staff Notes Monthly. A slide show documenting the recent inspection can be found on the Web.


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UCAR > Communications > Staff Notes Monthly > January 2001 Search

Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
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Last revised: Mon Jan 22 15:24:15 MST 2001