‘Combat Flightline’ allows C-130s to keep flying

2nd Lt. Matt Smith
86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron

***image1***The year was 1965 … Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was still alive and man had yet to land on the moon. Amazingly, most of the C-130E Hercules aircraft currently stationed at Ramstein were flying in 1965, many even saw action during the Vietnam Conflict.
A lot like your car, these aircraft will last longer and perform better when they’re cared for properly. The Combat Flightline Program encourages maintainers to improve the appearance and serviceability of the aging aircraft thereby lengthening their service life.
Several strategies were implemented to address the appearance of the C-130 aircraft. One of the newest and most unique is a robotic aircraft washing system tested in late January at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom; the initial testing of two C-130s was a success. The robotic washer is currently used by the 100th Air Refueling Wing to maintain appearance of the KC-135s and Air Force Special Operations Command’s C-130s stationed there.
“The new robotic washing system works very well and will decrease the time needed for us to wash an aircraft, stated Master Sgt. Richard Bolyard, 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent. Sergeant Bolyard continued, “A full wash crew of eight to 10 people could be cut to five, and this washing system could cut three to four hours off our total washing time, allowing maintainers time to work other aircraft maintenance and appearance issues.”
Besides employing robot technology, airmen also maintain aircraft appearance in other creative ways. Last fall, a Combat Flightline “hit” team composed of airmen from six specialties used their collective talents to successfully eliminate the most glaring appearance problems. The team faced a variety of obstacles working around a busy flying schedule, but in the end improved the appearance of the 12 local C-130s without hindering a single mission.
“The biggest change I’ve seen after the hit team was the increase of pride by maintainers,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Russell, a crew chief assigned to the team from the 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “Other dedicated crew chiefs on the flightline take more pride in the appearance of their aircraft. Even specialists who don’t normally get assigned to an aircraft help take care of the aircraft they work.”
This dedication is what makes the Combat Crew Challenge, another Combat Flightline initiative, work. Maintainers from throughout the Aircraft Maintenance Squadron are assigned to teams responsible for a four-ship of aircraft. These teams compete monthly based upon aircraft and individual performance.
In the future, the Combat Flightline Program will continue to improve the appearance of the aircraft. Overcoming a lack of hangar space at Ramstein, eight aircraft will be sent from the C-130 fleet through a depot facility in Portugal to receive an interior refurbishment during the upcoming year.
In addition, the squadron established an Aircraft Standardization Program to improve the quality and function of several support items to include composite chocks, high-quality inlet covers, and new grounding wires.
All Ramstein C-130 aircraft are now scheduled for two-day washes versus one, which include paint touch-up on the second day, in conjunction with the 30 percent increased aircraft wash cycle.
Another goal would be to shorten the time between full paints from six years to three years like most fighter aircraft, but there is definitely a cost for improved appearance.
Besides the actions taken locally, the squadron is also greatly anticipating their first aircraft to be painted with the advanced performance coating paint that is not as susceptible to absorbing oils, dirt, grime, etc.
Innovative robotic washes, Combat Crew Challenge and numerous other initiatives to improve aircraft appearance are only the beginning. The next time you see a C-130 flying remember the dedication of the 770 individuals in the 86th Maintenance Group, combined with the Combat Flightline Program, made it possible for that aircraft to fly and support democracy in the past, present and for many years to come.