Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

TOP STORY >>More planes are headed for air base

By SARA GREENE
Leader deputy managing editor

Little Rock Air Force Base is projected to get more than a dozen additional C-130J cargo aircraft and possibly some of the Air Force’s 100 joint-cargo aircraft. “We’re projected to get 14 more C-130Js at Little Rock Air Force Base over the next several years for Air Mobility Command’s 463rd Airlift Group,” said Capt. David Faggard, of the 314th Airlift Wing’s Strategic Information Flight office.

Little Rock Air Force Base has seven C-130J models attached to the 48th Airlift Squadron as part of the Air Education Training Command’s training program for pilots and crews. The Air Force recently changed the type of contract it will use to purchase 39 of the $65 million C-130J cargo aircraft from Lockheed Martin. The contract was changed from a commercial contract to a traditional military contract. The change was necessary to comply with the fiscal year 2006 National Defense Authorization Act and is estimated to save the Air Force $168 million, roughly about $4.3 million per plane.

Faggard said the addition of new C-130s to the Air Force fleet is important both locally and globally. “The C-130J is important because it shows the Air Force is investing in Little Rock Air Force Base and the community. Every day C-130s take convoys off the roadways in Iraq. As we add more C-130s that’s less time the war fighter has to spend on the ground,” Faggard said.

Another new plane could be parked on LRAFB’s tarmac by 2010. The Pentagon has yet to decide which company will design and build the joint cargo aircraft, a twin-engine plane about half as big as a C-130, to be used by both the Army and Air Force to deliver small amounts of cargo to war zones with unpaved or rough airstrips.

Since the planes haven’t been designed yet, there’s no price tag for the JCA. The Army requested 75 of the planes and Gen. Duncan McNabb, commander of Air Mobility Command said Monday the Air Force may buy as many as 100 of the Joint Cargo Aircraft, not the 70 it has previously talked about. Based on the Defense Department’s Mission Capabilities Study—a classified report the Pentagon uses to craft its mobility policy—the Air Force requires about 400 C-130s, McNabb said in Orlando, Fla., where he is taking part in the annual Airlift Tanker Association convention.

“We know we’re looking at 400-plus C-130-capacity type aircraft,” he said. “We’re going to do (the avionics modernization program) on all the (C-130H models), so right there you’ve got about 280 of those.” Once you factor in the C-130Js, he said, the fleet is up to about 350 toward the Mission Capabilities Study requirement.

“So that brings you to the last 50,” he said. “Right now we think the JCA will carry half as much as the C-130J. So what we’re thinking is that about 100 of those will give us the capacity of those 50. So that’s what we’re targeting.” Still, he said, the JCA “could be lot of different type of airplanes. We don’t know exactly what that will be. But if you put all that together that will fit pretty nicely and we’ll have that updated fleet.” Army contracting officers had eliminated Lockheed Martin from a $6 billion bid competition to provide the JCAs earlier this year saying Lockheed’s submission was not be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Lockheed Martin is appealing that decision says Peter Simmons, spokesman for Lockheed Martin. “We’ve filed a petition of appeal with the Government Accountability Office and hope to have a decision by the end of November,” Simmons said.
Other competitors for the JCA contract are Raytheon and L3–a joint venture between Boeing, L-3 Communications and Italian company Alenia.

New planes like the C-130J and the JCA are needed to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of cargo planes. In 2005, Air Force engineers found microscopic cracking where the wings meet the fuselage, an area called the wing-box, of the 40-year old C-130 E and 20-year old H models. After maintainers evaluated the 450 C-130s in the fleet, the Air Force grounded nearly 100 aircraft with the cracks. The Air Force put weight, altitude and flight time restrictions on aircraft that might develop the cracks based on wear and tear based such as the number of hours flown, maintenance issues and the more demanding tactical flying of wartime maneuvers.

There are 15 C-130Es grounded at LRAFB. Of the planes at LRAFB AETC’s 53rd and 62nd Airlift Squadrons have 45 C-130E cargo aircraft. AMC’s 61st Airlift Squadron has 30 of the C-130Es. The Arkansas Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Group has 8 C-130H models at the base.

Some of the information for this article is from the Air Force Times.