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C-130J Operational testers propel 'Herc' through Phase 2

A C-130J is de-iced at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, during Phase 2 Operational Test and Evaluation flight test studies. The deployment of the C-130J to Eielson was designed to test the aircraft and its avionics' ability to continue its mission through extreme weather conditions. (Photo by 1st Lt. Thomas Harner)

A C-130J is de-iced at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, during Phase 2 Operational Test and Evaluation flight test studies. The deployment of the C-130J to Eielson was designed to test the aircraft and its avionics' ability to continue its mission through extreme weather conditions. (Photo by 1st Lt. Thomas Harner)

A C-130J as seen through night-vision goggles during Phase 2 testing.  (Courtesy photo)

A C-130J as seen through night-vision goggles during Phase 2 testing. (Courtesy photo)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- After more than 300 hours of Operational Test and Evaluation flight test activities, C-130J test teams from Edwards concluded C-130J Phase 2 OT&E testing on Dec. 21, culminating nearly five years of developmental and operational testing.

The C-130J is the latest addition to the C-130 fleet and provides 40-percent more range and flies 24-percent faster than the C-130E and H-models.

"The C-130J is also made in both short and stretch models," said Lt. Col. Mike Brignola, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center mission support and division chief for the C-130J OT&E. "The stretch model has an added 15 feet of cargo floor, which allows for two additional pallet positions on the aircraft. Both versions of the C-130J were used during Phase 2 testing."

Beginning its journey toward full capability, the C-130J went through Phase 1 OT&E testing in 1999 and 2000 evaluating the aircraft in its basic airland mission, which is the transport of cargo from airfield to airfield.

As the C-130J moved toward aircraft maturity, block upgrades were added. Aircraft block upgrades are hardware and software modifications, mostly dealing with the mission computers, which run all the software on the aircraft. The last block upgrade, Block 5.4, encompassed many areas, focusing primarily on the airdrop system and the formation positioning system of the C-130J, Colonel Brignola said.

The Air Force Flight Test Center completed the developmental testing on the system upgrades in June 2005, allowing the Phase 2 operational testing to begin in October.

Before the dedicated OT began, the test team was able to capture hot weather data here at Edwards, while working with the AFFTC during developmental testing in a combined test approach, said Maj. Stan Ebner, Detachment 3, Air Mobility Command Test and Evaluation Squadron commander and AFOTEC assistant test director for the OT&E.

In addition to the hot weather data, C-130J OT&E teams conducted combined defensive systems testing, where 90 percent of the OT defensive system data was collected, he said.

The Phase 2 OT&E ran from October through December 2005 and was divided into four phases conducted mainly out of Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark.

"During the first phase, test teams flew up to eight-ship formations in the local area of Little Rock in training type scenarios," Colonel Brignola said. "They went through routes in formation and then into the objective area for an airdrop."

There were three types of airdrops tested: heavy equipment, personnel and container delivery system, he said.

From there teams moved to the second phase, a Joint Readiness Training Center exercise in conjunction with the Army, at Fort Polk, La.

"This was a simulated combat environment," Major Ebner said. "With small, hard to find drop zones, this really tested the limits of the crews and the airplanes."

It involved landing in austere landing zones, small dirt strips, bringing in Army troops and then re-supplying the troops through airdrops.

"This was kind of a graduation exercise," Colonel Brignola said. "One of the main thrusts of the Phase 2 test was to see if the C-130J and its crews were ready to conduct their mission in its wartime environment."

The third phase was a cold weather deployment to Eielson AFB, Alaska. This phase tested the ability of the aircraft and its avionics to continue its mission through the extreme weather conditions.

The final phase was completed in a simulator at Keesler AFB, Miss. Simulators were used during this portion of the test to evaluate crews' workloads in high stress situations.

"You can test scenarios in a simulator that you can't really do in an aircraft, ones that could be harmful to the crew," Colonel Brignola said.

A simulated environment allows these factors to be somewhat controlled, creating a safe environment for this portion of the test, he said.

This involved Crew Resource Management, or the way crews interact with each other during a mission.

"This could mean if something sounds wrong to the crews in the back, if there are stress levels in voices or something doesn't sound right, you start asking questions to find out what's going on and get everyone back on track to complete the mission," said Master Sgt. Jimmie McKenzie, Det 3, AMC TES loadmaster.

Throughout testing, maintenance crews provided operational expertise and assessed the reliability, effectiveness, survivability and aircraft performance of the C-130J.

"Our job was to ensure that the C-130J was supportable from a maintenance standpoint," said Chief Master Sgt. Isaac Fabunan, Det 3, AMC TES superintendent.

From technical orders to mission capable rates, mean repair times and fix rates, maintainers assessed how the C-130J compares to the legacy C-130s, he said.

"There are two sides to what we hope is accomplished by these tests," Chief Fabunan said. "From the operational side, we're trying to get the new capabilities identified in the test released so we can pass them on to the guys in the field to use in the wartime environment. For the maintenance side, we identified and hope to get the deficiencies we saw in the test fixed for future C-130J users."

With completion of the Phase 2 testing the C-130J test team here is analyzing the data and should have a final AFOTEC report by March.

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