Collaboration with industry has improved the availability of Air Force’s C-130J Hercules transport fleet by one additional aircraft on average over an 18-month period.
Since early 2019, availability and serviceability within the 12-aircraft fleet has increased over the same time that they have supported numerous emergency and disaster relief missions.
This includes government responses to the 2019 and 2020 Bushfires, the White Island Volcano, and the Port of Beirut explosion.
Air Commodore Carl Newman, Commander Air Mobility Group, said the increased availability meant Defence could plan missions in a crisis with greater assuredness.
“The nature of our geography means Defence often needs a Hercules to get its people and equipment to places where help is needed,” Air Commodore Newman said.
“We regularly see a Hercules deploy as the ‘first in and last out’ to a disaster area, delivering emergency responders and supplies, and bringing people out of danger.
“We expect these kinds of contingency missions to continue to be a fixture for Defence operations, especially as Australia enters a high-risk weather season over October to March.”
The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast a La Niña weather pattern for Australia for the summer of 2020/21, which is expected to bring increased rainfall across the country.
Disaster relief missions have long featured within the C-130J’s roles since No. 37 Squadron introduced the aircraft to service in 1999.
Each Hercules can carry more than 100 passengers or up to 20 tonnes of cargo, and land on remote airfields in Australia and the Indo-Pacific region where there is often scant airfield infrastructure, such as in areas affected by natural disasters.
With each airframe over 20 years old, new approaches to how they are supported by the C-130J Maintenance Enterprise at RAAF Base Richmond.
The Enterprise consists of No. 37 Squadron, No. 84 Wing, and Air Lift Systems Program Office; and industry partners including Airbus Australia Pacific and Standard Aero Limited.
Improved availability of the fleet earned the Enterprises a Commander Air Mobility Group Commendation on August 27.
“The increased C-130J availability is not just because of one person or one team, but a team of teams,” Air Commodore Newman said.
“A number of folks in maintenance, logistics and servicing have adjusted servicing schedules, refined maintenance practices, and improved our logistics system so that it is much more responsive.
“The C-130J is now one of the oldest aircraft in the Defence fleet, and I have confidence in this team of teams to keep delivering that capability.”
One initiative has been to place industry Field Service Representatives (FSRs) within No. 37 Squadron and No. 84 Wing, increasing the sharing of experience and identifying opportunities for improvement.
Matt Davis is the General Manager of Standard Aero Limited, which is responsible for servicing the C-130J’s Rolls-Royce AE2100D turboprop engines.
FSRs from Standard Aero, Rolls Royce, and Dowty - which produces the C-130J’s propellers – provide greater access to technical support, training, and engineering reach-back opportunities.
“This approach has seen an increase in the average time-on-wing for engines before they need to be removed for maintenance, and reduced the number of unscheduled removals per year,” Mr Davis said.
Airbus Australia Pacific is responsible for engineering expertise and sustainment for the C-130J fleet, in consultation with the aircraft’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin.
Kevin Kwok, Senior Program Manager Air Mobility with Airbus, said FSRs were able to explore all options for unserviceable items before turning them to a manufacturer.
“One of the two Lockheed Martin FSRs is embedded within No. 37 Squadron at all times, with a focus on ensuring all options have been explored before a component enters the repair pipeline,” Mr Kwok said.
“This initiative has resulted in reduced unnecessary inductions, a decrease in No-Fault-Founds (NFFs), and improved component availability.”
An Airbus fleet planner in No. 84 Wing manages the major scheduled servicing of each Hercules, balancing the demand for training and operations against when aircraft require maintenance and upgrades.
“The Fleet Planner consults closely with all Defence and Industry stakeholders in order to maximise the number of available aircraft provided to No. 37 Squadron,” Mr Kwok said.
“Timely delivery of scheduled maintenance is achieved through effective maintenance and workload planning.
“We also have the flexibility to react to the inevitable unserviceabilities that emerge during a servicing given the age of the C-130J fleet.”
Maintenance work has been moved to Airbus from No. 37 Squadron, freeing RAAF technicians to support more flying operations.
No. 37 Squadron’s Senior Engineering Officer, Squadron Leader Rachael Quirk, said industry support has allowed her workforce to revise its own practices.
“One of the main areas that has improved C-130J serviceability has been the Before Flight servicing currency extension,” Squadron Leader Quirk said.
Before Flight servicing involves work by technicians to ensure the aircraft is suitable for flying operations covering a set time period.
No. 37 Squadron previously conducted a 24-hour Before Flight servicing.
“We have moved to a 72-hour before flight currency, reducing maintenance burden and ensuring we are more efficient at home and away base,” Squadron Leader Quirk said.
“This option was proposed by No. 37 Squadron, and the engineering rigour was completed by Airbus.”