Monday, February 06, 2006

February 5, 2006

Travis AFB's C-5s receiving tech upgrades

By Ian Thompson

Lockheed Martin engineers are currently working on the fourth C-5 upgrading the avionics at Travis Air Force Base. (Christine Baker/ Daily Republic)


TRAVIS AFB - Mike White described his crew's work aboard the Travis Air Force Base C-5 Galaxy as giving the jet transport "new brains."

The Lockheed-Martin Aeronautics site supervisor is working on one of the C-5s undergoing upgrades that will put in digital technology - making the transport a more-responsive aircraft.

"It takes the 1960s and 1970s technology in the aircraft and it upgrades to the technology of today," said Chief Master Sgt. John Hollister, maintenance production supervisor or the 60th Maintenance Group.

Lockheed Martin set up its worksite at the end of May 2005, bringing in 50 employees who started to work upgrading the first of the C-5 Galaxies in June.

Travis is one of two bases where the work is going on. Another Lockheed Martin aircrew is working on C-5s at Dover AFB, Del.

The crews at Travis are now on their fourth C-5 and that initial aircraft has since flown to Dover for testing and orientation. The crews are scheduled to work here through 2011.

"The new systems are holding up good," Lockheed Martin site supervisor Jim Gardiner said. "The pilots love them."

The plan is to upgrade 112 of the massive air transports, which will allow the C-5 to get into more restricted airspace and let more of the aircraft to fly in a congested area.

The Lockheed Martin crews can work on up to three C-5s at a time, setting up their shop in the transport's large cargo compartment while they work on the aircraft.

The workers are what Gardiner calls a good combination of retired C-5 fliers and maintainers, and workers who put together the modifications that arrive in crates to be installed into the aircraft.

Air Force personnel oversee the work to ensure the Air Force's specifications are followed and ensure the Lockheed people get whatever support they need.

"Everything has been open arms," said Gardiner. "Travis support has been outstanding."

This isn't the end of the improvement road for the C-5s.

Once the aircraft get the avionics systems put in, they will go to Georgia, where the transports will have new engines put in, an improvement that will significantly improve the transport's reliability.

"This will have a huge effect on the aircraft," Hollister said. "This will increase the amount of time the aircraft is available to the warfighter."

The Air Force has already put a significant amount of its aircrews and maintenance personnel through training on the new systems as well as rewriting the technical guidelines that govern maintenance "so that when aircraft are ready, we will be too."

These improvements will allow the C-5 to stay around another 40 years, Hollister said.

These avionics and engine improvements are expected to significantly improve not only the C-5's capability, but its reliability as well.

At present, the C-5s have one of the lowest mission-capable rates among the Air Force's inventory, with the Galaxy ready to fly slightly more than half the time, according to Air Force statistics.

Only the B-2 Spirit bomber has a worse rate, being good to go on time for only one in three of its missions, largely because of its high maintenance stealth technology.

On the flip side, the KC-10 Extender, which shares Travis with the C-5, is one of Air Mobility Command's most dependable aircraft, being ready to fly 84 percent of the time.

Success with the C-5's improvements will affect the Air Force's plans for both the C-5 and the C-17 Globemaster III.

A recent Mobility Requirements Study stated Air Mobility Command will be able to carry out its missions with the presently approved 180 Globemasters if the C-5 fleet can increase its mission reliability to at least 75 percent.

Local leaders, along with those in Southern California, where the C-17s are being built, lobbied to get the C-17 fleet expanded by another 40 aircraft.

Fairfield and other local groups also lobbied for years to get the C-5 modernization program funded.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

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