Maintainers apply innovative protection to C-130s

Rocks kicked up when landing a C-130 Hercules on unimproved runways can damage the fuselage of the aircraft. To combat this problem, maintainers in the 302nd Maintenance Group here began putting tape on the plane's belly.

In January, they took another step by applying protective tape to the forward landing gear in an effort to extend the life cycle of the struts and in turn save the Air Force money in repair costs.

"The tape was originally approved to help prevent rock damage from unimproved landing strips," said Senior Master Sgt. William Harris, the fabrication flight chief of the 302nd Maintenance Squadron. "The landing gear takes as much or more impact from rocks. We want to prevent as much damage as possible to the main landing gear by applying the tape."

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The main landing gear struts cost about $100,000 each and are rated for a four-year lifespan, Harris said. However, getting that much service out of the landing gear struts is rare because the aircraft frequently deploy to Southwest Asia.

Two years is a more realistic life expectancy of the parts, according to Harris, who said he believes the protective tape will extend the life of the parts to four years and save money by reducing the frequency of replacements.

"To replace a single strut, it takes a two-person team from the repair and reclamation section eight hours," Harris said. "That does not take into account all of the scheduling, hangar time and downtime that pulls an aircraft off the flying schedule."

The tape is an industrial product made of 6 mm thick, abrasion-resistant polyurethane elastomeric designed to resist punctures, tears and erosion. It comes in a 24-inch by 36-yard roll which is enough to cover 108 struts. It is easy to apply and creates no hazardous pollutants.

The estimated cost of materials and labor to install the tape on one strut is $100. Unless punctured by rocks, the tape remains in place until the strut completes its serviceable life. If there is a hole in the tape, maintenance personnel will simply remove it and then inspect the strut.

The 302nd MXG already has approval from the C-130 systems engineering program office to apply the tape to the forward struts of one aircraft.

Maintainers will inspect the struts after the first and 10th unimproved runway landing to evaluate the success of the procedure. If successful, the program office will determine the feasibility of adding the tape to the aircraft's rear struts, as well as other aircraft.

"The only issue is that the tape can only be installed on new struts," Harris said. "If it was applied on struts with existing damage, we would only be covering up issues, (which) could result in future mishaps."

 "This operational test is the result of an idea that originated here in the 302nd (MXG) from our own mechanics and took steadfast determination to bring to fruition," said Col. James Van Housen, the 302nd MXG commander. "The first-class care we give our aircraft is not just aimed at extending their life span, but at making ours the best fleet of C-130s in the Air Force."

by Master Sgt. Daniel Butterfield
302nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Source: US Air Force
Date: Jun 11, 2013