Robins mechanics doing unique job for Afghanistan

wcrenshaw@macon.comMay 27, 2014 

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- Aircraft mechanics at Robins are doing something that has never been done at the base, and the results will ultimately contribute to the security of Afghanistan.

Mechanics in the C-130 section are prepping two C-130s to be delivered to the Afghan air force, and one of them is far from a typical job.

One plane is getting a standard overhaul, but the other is getting a new nose section. That plane suffered severe nose damage during a hard landing in Afghanistan.

Mechanics have taken a good nose section, including the entire cockpit, from a plane that was set to be retired. They will soon attach that to the plane that had been damaged.

That has only been done one other time, and it will be the first time it will be done at Robins, said Scott Latimer, deputy flight chief over the C-130 center-wing box replacement program, which is doing the nose section work.

“We are taking a section off a good airplane and a section off a bad airplane and swap them,” he said. “We are going to make a good airplane out of two.”

The decision was made to salvage the damaged plane rather than scrap it because in 2009 it had a center-wing box replacement. That represented a major investment in the plane and was fairly recent, so engineers concluded it would be worth the effort to save it.

Before it ever arrived at Robins, a significant amount of preplanning went into figuring out how to do the job, Latimer said.

Not only is replacing the nose unique, but just removing the entire nose section is not something that would be done as a part of maintenance.

The section is attached to the fuselage by 364 bolts, which means there are 728 holes between the two sides that must align perfectly. After the two noses were removed, each hole was studied meticulously. A determination was made that 37 of the holes need some tweaking to make it line up, which Latimer said is much better than he was expecting.

If that sounds like painstaking work, it’s not actually the most complex part of the operation. That would be the about 2,000 wires that had to be cut to separate the nose.

Each one must be reattached to the correct matching wire, using small identifying marks on the wires. Once that is done, every single wire will have to be tested.

“Essentially we are doing spinal surgery, and we are going to have to reconnect every last one of those nerves back,” said Tim Hawkins, who is leading the electrical part of the project. “It’s tedious work.”

Hawkins said he was excited to be part of it. He flew on C-130s in the Marines and has a great affection for the plane known as the workhorse of the Air Force.

“Anytime I can keep a C-130 flying, it’s a bonus to me,” he said.

The other C-130 is being overhauled in another hangar in the 560th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. That is a typical job except for one thing. Like the plane getting the new nose section, it will also get an application of a special compound in certain parts of the plane to protect it from the long-term exposure to Afghanistan’s harsh environment.

Ben Howard, a production scheduler on that job, said the mechanics take great pride in every plane they overhaul. He called the C-130 the Air Force’s “Jeep.”

“It really makes you feel good when you put it all back together and see it fly,” he said.

Both planes are expected to be delivered to Afghanistan by the end of the year.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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