Marshall Aerospace welcomes second round of SAAF business

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The SA Air Force (SAAF) C-130BZ (tail number 409) currently at Marshall Aerospace in Cambridge is not the first of type from South Africa to be in the United Kingdom for maintenance and upgrading – it was preceded in the early 2000s by others as part of Project Ebb.

That contract was part of a major refit with Denel and Marshall, among others, fitting digital avionics to replace electromechanical, giving the aircraft so-called “glass cockpits”. Marshall Aerospace added a digital autopilot, flight displays, a navigation systems upgrade, communications and self-defence integration and enhancements to the electrical generation system. Since the completion of these upgrades, in-country maintenance of the fleet has been performed by Denel.

The upgrade, according to the Unofficial SAAF Website, was not without delay and disputes between Marshall and Denel caused it to run years past the expected date of completion, which was set for June 2002. The project was eventually finalised in July 2009. Two of the four-engined SAAF transport workhorses were damaged after the upgrades, with one’s brakes catching fire after a test flight at the then Johannesburg International Airport, now OR Tambo International. The other was damaged during testing, apparently due to over-pressurised fuel tanks.

On the current contract, a Marshall statement has it the company will initially modify one aircraft, replacing the existing secondary flight display (SFD) and implementing an automatic dependent surveillance broadcast – out (ADSB –Out) – capability. ADSB is an internationally required system for determining and periodically broadcasting aircraft location without the use of ground-based interrogation signals.

“Following testing and verification of these modifications on the first aircraft, Marshall will supply Denel with service bulletin kits containing all parts, components and instructions needed to perform the same modifications on four additional C-130 aircraft in South Africa. Marshall will train Denel and SAAF technicians on the modification implementation processes.

“Under the new contract, Marshall will perform depth maintenance, involving comprehensive inspections, repairs and rectification.”

The first of the SAAF aircraft arrived at Cambridge on 11 August ahead of modification work. “We are delighted to have been asked to support the SAAF and Denel with our technical capability and platform know-how to extend the lifespan of these aircraft,” said Marshall Aerospace Managing Director Neil McManus.

All told the SAAF plans to upgrade six long-serving Hercules transports, with each upgrade expected to take in the region of 18 months. Neither defenceWeb nor the Unofficial SAAF Website has – as yet – been able to establish the project name for the life extensions.

The new Marshall contract for modification, support and servicing drew irate response from Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow public enterprises minister Ghaleb Cachalia. He demands the SAAF, Department of Defence (DoD) and Pravin Gordhan’s Public Enterprises Department “pause the R1 billion contract for the upgrade of six Hercules C-130 military transport aircraft until clarity is provided on why Denel Aeronautics has been side-lined in favour of a UK contractor”.

He asks why the SAAF “is refusing to give business to Denel” with the rider that “externalising defence contracts will damage the South African economy and kill the local defence industry”. This is patently not so and explained by there being just one Hercules servicing bay shared by Denel and the SAA Air Servicing Unit (ASU) at Air Force Base (AFB) Waterkloof. Reports have it a second Hercules servicing bay will be built by Denel.