AFAFRICA helps Nigerian C-130 fly again

by Tech. Sgt. Alec Lloyd
17th Air Force

A group of active duty Air Force and Tennessee Air National Guard members recently helped restore one of Nigeria’s C-130 transport aircraft to flying condition as part of an ongoing military-to-military engagement between 17th Air Force (U.S. Air Forces Africa) and the West African nation.

Lt. Col. David MacKenzie, deputy director of 17th Air Force’s plans and programs directorate, visited Nigeria in January along with members from the Secretary of the Air Force International Affairs, Africa Division (SAF/IARM) and the C-130 System Program Office (C-130 SPO) to lay the groundwork for the visit.

From Aug. 16 to 29, he partnered with a team of 12 maintainers from the 118th Airlift Wing in Nashville, Tenn., to help demonstrate and familiarize the Nigerian Air Force maintainers with evaluating and repairing one of Nigeria’s C-130H transport aircraft. Currently, only one out of Nigeria’s eight C-130s is available for service.

“The 118th has done a terrific job in helping us partner with this key African nation to build capacity to support African Union and United Nations peacekeeping transport capabilities,” Colonel MacKenzie said. “This is the biggest military-to-military exchange event we’ve done in 2009 and we couldn’t have done it had the 118th not stepped up with not only the maintenance folks but with their own C-130H aircraft and crew providing the transport and Ravens to guard the aircraft.”

 He noted that the Airmen from the Volunteer State were themselves volunteers.

The mission was primarily to demonstrate propeller and engine change procedures in order to render the C-130 airworthy enough to fly to an aircraft repair depot in Europe for a more extensive overhaul, and the Nigerians took advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as they could from the 118th demonstrations.

“The 118th was perfect for this task as they are developing into an international training unit having recently conducted training and visits with the Polish Air Force and their own growing C-130 fleet,” Colonel MacKenzie added.

The Nigerians’ drive to learn impressed Senior Master Sgt. David West, a flightline supervisor with the 118th.

“They want to know everything we can teach them,” he said. “They want to learn and they want to work.”

The Nigerian C-130 fleet dates from the mid-1980s and has not been upgraded since then.  Sergeant West said this is where the continuity of the Air National Guard really comes in handy.

“There’s hardly anyone here with less than 20 years experience,” he said. “That means you can always ask one of the guys ‘remember when we had a problem like this?’ and odds are you’ve experienced it, either on the military or civilian side. Someone who had only worked on the J-model would be completely lost on this.”

Chief Master Sgt. Tony Jeanette, also of the 118th, said their Nigerian hosts have been excellent.

“They welcomed us with open arms, very cordial and polite,” he said. “The majority of their problem is that they need some formal training and tools. Without tools, you can’t fix anything.”

In addition to the 118th, the mission drew upon two Air Force International Affairs officers, a civilian technician from the new business office and 1st Lt. Dan Wilkenson, an aerospace composites engineer from the 330th Aircraft Sustainment Group out of Robbins Air Force Base, Ga.  Lieutenant Wilkenson’s expertise was critical in setting the stage to render the additional Nigerian C-130 aircraft ready to enter Program Depot Maintenance.

“The biggest challenge we have so far is part and tool availability,” Lieutenant Wilkenson said.  “If we have to replace something, we pretty much have to can it from another aircraft instead of drawing it from supply, which is a lengthy process.” 

He also noted that there was a shortage of safety equipment and larger tools such as engine stands, making what would otherwise be fairly simple repairs much more complex.

Despite all of the obstacles, the event has been so successful that the Nigerian chief of air staff initiated talks during the event to repair a second aircraft as soon as possible.

“I’m really glad to be here,” Chief Jeanette said.  “This has been a good experience for both sides and we hope to come back again when they launch this aircraft to fly to the depot and start work on the second one.”