Remaking Dover's C-5 fleet
Modernizing cargo jets could be crucial to new U.S. redeployment strategy
By JAMES MERRIWEATHER
Dover Bureau reporter
Steven Rall and his team are knee-deep into the wiring of the gutted cockpit of a C-5B Galaxy jet in a Dover Air Force Base hangar normally reserved for work on vintage planes.
They are trying to save the life of an aging cargo jet that remains the backbone of the Air Force's airlift command as it ferries troops, tanks and tons of supplies around the world. When it can fly, that is.
The huge transport jets, some more than 30 years old, are fit to fly only about 65 percent of the time.
Rall's job is to remedy that so the C-5 can be a reliable part of the military's growing preference for rapid deployment forces - units based in the United States that can be quickly shipped to hot spots such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
That strategy is at the heart of the force redeployment plan announced last week by President Bush. He wants to bring 70,000 troops long stationed in Europe and Asia back to U.S. bases, placing more pressure on an already stretched Air Mobility Command to move them quickly when the need arises.
"We don't have enough capability to support what we're doing around the world now, and we certainly don't have the capability to do the rapid-deployment plan that President Bush unveiled [last] week," said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. "How do we do that cost-effectively? Part of the answer is cost-effective airlift."
A reliable C-5 can help make that plan work because it can haul almost twice the tonnage as its replacement, the C-17 Globemaster III. It also could be cheaper.
Overhauling all the Air Force's 112 C-5s could cost $10 billion. Buying enough C-17s to replace the C-5s could cost three times as much.
The modernization program, which began in Dover in June, should cut down on trips to the repair shop, allow the C-5 to move in and out of areas with shorter runways and fly more effectively using modern satellite-based navigational systems.
The plane Rall and his team from Lockheed Martin are working on is one of three that will be completely upgraded with new electronic controls, modern computer-based equipment and more powerful engines. The upgraded planes will be tested for two years to see if it makes sense to upgrade the rest of the C-5s.
"As far as us pilots are concerned, this new technology makes our job a little easier and safer," said Capt. Ken Evans, 29, an instructor pilot at Dover Air Force Base. "It'll essentially be a new plane."
The C-5 has been plagued with reliability problems for years.
The Dover base and others with C-5s often cannibalize planes for parts to keep them flying. For high-priority missions, the Air Force books two planes for each load, figuring one will be in the shop.
In 1997, the Air Force reported that it required 56.2 hours of maintenance for each flying hour, largely because of problems with avionics, engines, hydraulics and landing gears.
Gen. John W. Handy, who heads the Air Mobility and U.S. Transportation commands, said this year that C-5As, which began flying in 1970, were ready to fly 63.5 percent of the time. The more advanced C-5B models, which went into service in 1986, were ready about 73 percent of the time. The rate for the C-17 was in the mid-80s, he said.
Handy said studies predicted full modernization could improve C-5 rates by up to 13.5 percentage points.
The first in a two-phase upgrade program will replace 1960s-era wheels, gears, cogs and other moving parts with digital instruments and readouts, including seven 6-by-8-inch computer screens replacing various dials and tapes. Satellite communications gear will be added to complement systems installed in 2002 that provide electronic warnings of other planes nearby.
"Hopefully, it'll make it simpler to trouble-shoot and maintain, and system reliability will be improved," said Master Sgt. Clarence Deaver, 47, chief of the plans and program flight of the 436th Maintenance Operations Squadron in Dover.
The new flight-control and navigational equipment is needed for the C-5 to comply with global air traffic management rules for international flights.
The rules demand equipment allowing planes to safely fly closer together to increase the number that can fly in the same airspace. Evans said the upgrades will allow C-5 pilots to use the most efficient routes at the most favorable altitudes, saving fuel and time.
Rall, Lockheed's site manager at Dover, heads a team of 42 workers handling the first C-5B. The company hired 16 to 18 local workers for the upgrade.
It will take the team 110 days to redo a plane - each as long and wide as a football field, and as tall as a five-story building. Work time should drop to about 60 days for subsequent planes.
The work includes installing digital equipment that will reduce the number of wires from 13,000 to about 4,500.
"You can put a lot of stuff on one wire," Rall said.
The first refurbished plane will be flown to Lockheed Martin's Marietta, Ga., facility, where new engines, landing gears and other improvements will be installed as part of the second phase. Three fully upgraded C-5s - an A model and two B models - will be tested starting in October 2005. The testing should be completed by 2007.
While the test is proceeding, the Air Force plans to install modern electronic equipment in all 50 of its C-5Bs - but not the 60 remaining A models. No decision on the A models or second phase work on the B models will be made until the test results are in.
The electronics upgrades, known as avionics packages, cost about $3.5 million for each plane. The second phase, which includes new engines and upgrades to the C-5's landing gears, environmental control system, and auxiliary power units - the plane's thorniest maintenance problems - would raise the cost to up to $75 million a plane.
The program could cost up to $10 billion if all C-5s are completely refurbished, which would extend the life of the jet through 2040.
As the C-5 modernization goes forward, the Air Force will continue to add more C-17s to its fleet. The smaller plane, deployed in 1993, has won legions of supporters by landing on a regular basis on short, unimproved airstrips in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As of June, the Air Force had received 120 of 180 C-17s on order so far. Dover is to get 13 C-17s by 2008, with the first four arriving a year earlier. Dover would keep 18 C-5Bs.
Supporters of the program said the Air Force needs both planes to meet future airlift needs.
"The C-17 is too good of an airplane for us not to have it in Dover, but it's vitally important that we continue to modernize the C-5, too," said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del. Castle, Carper and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., have pressed for years for the C-5 modernization program.
The time needed for the test of the full C-5 upgrade will afford years for a firm decision on whether to fully modernize the 59 other A models as well as 50 C-5Bs.
So far, the Air Force has entered contracts to pay Lockheed $63.1 million for 26 avionics kits and $5.9 million to install the first eight. Work will continue at Dover and at Travis Air Force Base in California.
Continued funding depends on Congress, which has mandated that the C-5 fleet stay at 112 planes - including two C models, which are stripped down to carry outsized cargo for the space program - until the three test aircraft are evaluated.
Handy, the military's transportation chief, said he would not be surprised if all the current thinking did not need to be reconsidered by 2012, when all the C-5Bs would have new avionics and engines if both phases of the program are fully executed.
In an interview that appeared in Air Force Magazine, he said the A models might be too worn out by that time for modernization to make sense.
"By 2012," he said, "it may be that the whole notion is overcome by events."
MODERNIZING THE C-5
Refurbishing the C-5 will occur in two phases: The avionics phase now under way would upgrade electronics, controls, cockpits instruments and control systems and cost $3.5 million for each plane. The second phase would not begin until 2007. It would replace engines, landing gears and power supplies and raise the cost to $75 million a plane. There are 112 C-5s in the Air Force fleet.
A collision-avoidance system was installed in 2002 that provides electronic alerts to pilots when other planes are close. The system allows a pilot to use cockpit instruments to track up to 50 planes within an 80-mile radius.
Digital displays and equipment will replace '60s-era analog cockpit instruments, making for what Lockheed Martin, the contractor, describes as an "eight-fold improvement in avionics reliability." Upgrades include seven new 6-by-8-inch liquid crystal displays, laptop-size computer screens that replace various dials, wheels, tapes and assorted moving parts. Improvements also will include an embedded satellite global position/inertial navigation system.
Skin and frame upgrades are scheduled in the second phase.
Wings on the oldest C-5s were replaced between 1981 and 1986. No major wing updates are scheduled, but that could change after a C-5 now being cut into pieces is analyzed for structural integrity.
Existing General Electric turbofan engines with 43,000 pounds of thrust would be replaced in the second phase with more powerful GE commercial engines with 9,000 pounds more thrust. That would mean C-5s could use shorter runways, allowing them to get into and out of locations in more remote areas.
The 28-wheel landing gear has long been a problem, causing many of the repair problems that make the jet transport less reliable than it needs to be. The gear would be improved in the second phase.
Time will tell if this is throwing good money after bad...
Wow, a 65% OR rate for the fleet! I would be relieved if I maintained a 75% rate, much less 65%!
C-17 is around 90% overall, with some individual units maintaining rates around 96%.
That's on-time departure reliability, meaning the aircraft took off when scheduled without maintenance related delays.
This is good money being thrown in the right direction... The C-17 is an awesome airplane but it is more like a super C-130. It does not have the "legs" that a C-5 has, but, at the same time, can go places a C-5 can't. It also can't carry nearly as much cargo as a C-5... 36 pallets on the C-5 versus 24 on a C-17 (cargo 747s carry 42!).
Anyhow, this is a step in the right direction and something that is needed to keep the US mobile and able to go all over the world!
Why not just buy a crap-load of 747s?
No roll on-roll off capability, no airdrop capability.
The USA has funded the Civil Reserve Air Fleet.
"As of January 2004, 39 carriers and 991 aircraft were enrolled in the CRAF. This includes 906 aircraft in the international segment (647 in the long-range international section and 259 in the short-range international section), and 36 and 45 aircraft, respectively, in the national and aeromedical evacuation segments. These numbers are subject to change on a monthly basis."
You can open these links to see what aircraft the Civil Reserve Air Fleet consists of:
NORFOLK Naval Air Station Virginia -- One of the military's largest transports got stuck at the end of a runway atop the I-564 overpass for more than 16 hours. It was unable to turn around at the West end of Chambers Field at the Norfolk Naval Station. The incident forced the closing of the field to all but helicopter traffic and made for a dramatic sight for hundreds of motorists passing beneath it during morning rush hour.
"That thing's like a big building sitting there.'' said motorists. The nose of the aircraft actually stuck out and OVER the Interstate!
The aircraft's nose was so far over the end of the ramp, the crew was unable to see the runway where it was supposed to turn around so the pilot simply had to leave it at the end of the runway. The Air Force C-5 Galaxy, largest airplane in the free world, is almost as long as a football field and as high as a six-story building..
Weighing 420 tons with a full load, it uses a system of 28 wheels to distribute its weight. The aircraft had to wait for a specially made tow bar trucked in from Dover, Del. When the tow bar arrived, it was used to hook the C-5 to a tractor that then turned the aircraft around. The plane was not damaged.