Friday, June 25, 2010

TOP STORY>>Making C-130s like they’re new

Leader senior staff writer

Restructuring of C-130 training at Little Rock Air Force Base, currently in the planning phase, seems to fit hand in glove with the Pentagon’s decision to upgrade “legacy” C-130Hs with the avionics modernization program.

A site-activation taskforce team was on base this week to begin working out reorganization details, even as Boeing on Thursday announced Air Force approval to begin low-rate initial production of 20 AMP kits.

Upon completion of a longer contract, yet to be awarded, 221 C-130Hs will have been updated with digital, computerized cockpits with standardized state-of-the-art avionics, navigation and communication on par with those of the new C-130J airlifters.

The cost of those kits in 2007 was about $14 million per aircraft, according to Boeing spokesman Mike Harris, but by the 69th plane, the cost should be down to about $7 million, he said.

By way of comparison, a new C-130J, which the AMP cockpit emulates in many ways, costs about $85 million per plane, according to Harris.

The AMP is designed to bring the old C-130s into the 21st Century, with digital technology and with standardization.

Currently, there are 30 variants of the C-130 cockpit. Installation of the AMP kits will make the planes identical to pilots and aircrews and make them closely resemble the cockpit of the new C-130J.

In the midst of an emergency, no one will have to wonder where the fuse box is on a C-130 AMP. They will all be located in the same place.

“By standardizing, we can lower ownership cost and make it easier to fly,” a spokesman said.

The AMP program, more than a decade old, was plagued first by malfeasance by a civilian Air Force procurement officer who steered the initial contract to Boeing, then by an Air Force plan to scrap the project as too expensive. But in November, a team of top Pentagon leaders rejected the Air Force’s proposal to kill the multibillion-dollar AMP plan.

Three AMP training simulators already are set up and in use at Little Rock Air Force Base and two of the first C-130 AMPs are at the base, according to Harris.

The simulators include a full-motion, high fidelity simulator that trains aircrews to fly the AMP-modified aircraft in an operational environment. The simultor uses the same software as the C-130 AMP aircraft.

The avionics part task trainer and cockpit familiarization trainer are the other two.

Three C-130AMP aircraft are under installation and preliminary testing.

They will undergo periodic depot maintenance at Warner Robins Air Force Base, Ga., before being delivered to the Air Force C-130 AMP schoolhouse at Little Rock, where initial operational test and evaluation will be conducted, Boeing said.

By 2014, Little Rock’s 314th Airlift Wing will train exclusively on the state-of-the-art C-130Js, according to Col. C.K. Hyde, commander of the 314th Airlift Wing.

The National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing, in conjunction with a new Air Reserve Command unit to be stood up at the base, will by 2011 train exclusively for C-130H aircraft and the C-130 AMPs

“We’ve known this (realignment) was coming for several years,” Hyde said recently.

Hyde said 17 Vietnam-era C-130Es, average age 46 years old, would be replaced by 18 C-130H or C-130 AMP. Over the next five years, active forces will be converting to all J-model aircraft, Hyde said.

C-130H models from Guard and Reserve bases around the country will fill in at Little Rock, either reassigned or borrowed.

Of the 20 AMP kits Boeing is now authorized to build in a low-rate initial production run, five will be installed by Boeing, five by a competitor yet to be chosen and 10 by the Air Force at Warner Robins.

A competition will be held to determine who will build the balance of the 198 kits in a full-rate production run beginning in 2013, according to a Boeing spokesman.

In addition to switching from analog to digital controls and readouts, the kit will upgrade and standardize communication, navigation and air traffic management, have a glass cockpit including so-called head-up displays, night vision imaging and will meet all military operational environmental conditions.

It has open systems design, which allows easy upgrading or changing.

It has optional color weather radar, and systems for terrain and traffic collision avoidance.

According to Boeing, the C-130 AMP “enhances the situational awareness of the crew both in the battlefield and in civil airspace.”

The AMP cockpit has been tested to minus 140 degrees Fahrenheit and plus-130 degrees Fahrenheit for days.

Boeing has about $1.4 billion invested in the AMP, Harris said.

The original contract, signed almost a decade ago, was for retrofitting 550 C-130Hs with the AMP, but former Air Force procurement officer Doreen Druyun guided the contract to Boeing in exchange for a $250,000-a-year job and jobs for her daughter and son-in-law.

The contract was scrapped and Druyun served nine months in prison.

Lockheed-Martin, BAE and L-3, which lost out to Boeing on the original rigged bids, are likely competitors with Boeing for the new contract.

A spokesman said Lockheed is definitely interested.