A small investment could extend the lifetime of the South African Air Force’s small and venerable fleet of Lockheed Martin C130BZ Hercules medium transports until about 2030. That’s the view of C130 life extension programme project officer Brigadier General (Retired) Piet van Zyl.
Addressing a media briefing Friday he said the replacement cost of each aircraft was some US$142 million (R1.067 billion) based on the average sales price of the C130J over the last eight years. To replace the seven SAAF C-130BZ aircraft will cost R7.470 billion, he said.
But with an investment of 3.30% of its replacement value, the SAAF safely extended the service life of its C130BZ fleet to 2020. For another 4.70% of replacement value the fleet service life may be extended to 2030.
The SAAF C-130 fleet consists of seven platforms (401 – 407) purchased in 1962-3 before a US arms embargo was imposed on South Africa’s apartheid government and five received in 1997/8 from the US (two ex-United States Air Force C-130B’s – 408 and 409 – and three ex-US Navy C-130F’s – 410 to 412 as part of their Excess Defence Articles programme. The two ex-US C-130B ‘s and a C-130F (411) were subsequently put in service, but the C-130F was retired soon thereafter.
Van Zyl says only minor upgrades implemented between 1963 and 1995. The most significant of these was a centre wing replacement and outer wing refurbishment from 1969 to 1972 done under the auspices of Lockheed, an engine upgrade (from Allison T56-A-7 to T56-A-15) during the early 1970s and a basic avionic upgrade during the early 1980s.
A comprehensive avionics upgrade – Project Ebb – was launched in 1996 and completed in July 2010, the aircraft afterwards receiving the SAAF-unique BZ annotation. Van Zyl adds the SAAF C-130BZ aircraft are now equipped with the latest avionics technology, which has dramatically increased the operational capability of the fleet.
As a consequence, the fleet has visited 15 countries and flown 680 hours between April 1 and September 26 this year. But the higher operational flying rate has resulted in more failures by some sub-systems that have become unreliable due to age and original marginal design. A partnering with Denel Aviation to do deeper level maintenance and overhaul at AFB Waterkloof through a combined Maintenance and Repair Organisation (MRO) has reduced turnaround time on minor services from an average of 182 days to 84 days, a 53% reduction in down-time, Van Zyl added.
“Squadron personnel can now concentrate on flight line availability, which has greatly improved turn-around time,” he adds, saying the average number of mission ready aircraft now stands at 4.1 per day, “even peaking at 5 aircraft for short periods”, from a previous maximum of 2.5 aircraft per day.
Van Zyl sought to assure his audience it would be safe to fly the aircraft. He says a detailed engineering study conducted recently to determine the remaining service life of the fleet, found
all seven SAAF C-130BZ aircraft can safely fly to 2020 provided that the most critical obsolescence issues can be resolved – this including the aircraft’s pressurisation system, air conditioning and GTC. To fly to 2030, the aircrafts’ engines will need serious attention by 2022.
The SAAF C-130BZ fleet has to date only used – on average – 65% of their assigned wing life. The aircraft with the most flying time on the log has flown some 14 000 hours, while many other C130s and L100s (the civil version) have clocked up over 100 000 hours. Van Zyl says most C130 owners as a consequence of this long-livity plan to fly them indefinitely.