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AMPing up the C-130 fleet

Cockpits, like this one in a C-130E, will become a thing of the past when C-130H cargo aircraft receive an avionics upgrade that includes a heads-up display for pilots and more data at their fingertips.

Cockpits, like this one in a C-130E, will become a thing of the past when C-130H cargo aircraft receive an avionics upgrade that includes a heads-up display for pilots and more data at their fingertips.

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Members of the Arkansas Air National Guard's 189th Airlift Wing are helping shape the future of C-130 airlift as they advise Air Force contractors in California and systems specialists in Ohio with the development of the C-130 AMP, known in aviation circles as the Avionics Modernization Program.

Air Guardsmen have conducted in-depth checklist modifications, helped identify aircrew workload bottlenecks since the AMP won't require a navigator, reviewed computer based training courseware and reviewed the AMP operating manual for accuracy and format consistency, according to Maj. Dom Sarnataro, a pilot in the unit and lead AMP officer for the wing.

In 2001, Boeing was awarded the contract - valued at approximately $1 billion - for the system design and development portion of the program and the 656th Aeronautical Systems Squadron at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is responsible for "the modernization, development, test and production of C-130 aircraft systems" for Air Mobility Command, the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command, said Mr. Gary Stidham, C-130 AMP director. Approximately 260 C-130H aircraft are scheduled to be modified.

The 189th AW is the proposed lead Initial Operational Test and Evaluation flight crew with several other units tabbed to help perform IOT&E in fiscal year 2009. Later, the wing will become the C-130 AMP schoolhouse when the school stands up here in 2012.

According to an Air Force Print News article in September 2006, "the Air Force initiated the C-130 modification program to reduce the number of C-130 configurations in the fleet, including highly specialized versions in service with the Air Force Special Operations Command."

Built with many of the same analog dials and switches as its 1960s era counterpart, Air Force C-130H's will receive a modernized cockpit complete with digital high-tech, color "glass" cockpits, which includes a heads-up display for the pilot and copilot, and the ability to comply with the European-based communication navigation surveillance air traffic management requirement. Currently, older E and H models require a waiver to fly through European air space. Even the C-130J, the Air Force's latest version of the venerable workhorse of the fleet, isn't compliant with the new European aviation requirement.

The upgrade to the H models is expected to cost around $10 million per plane. Using primarily off-the-shelf technology, Boeing officials have created a cockpit whose components can be easily and quickly replaced. By bringing the different variants of the C-130 together, it should be cheaper for the Air Force to maintain, the major said.

Unfortunately, the AMP version of the C-130 will eliminate the need for a navigator to be on board. With four global positioning systems on board, officials aren't concerned about not being able to reach a target on time.

"GPS is a wonderful thing," said Col. Dwight Balch, 189th Airlift Wing commander and a C-130 pilot. "Unfortunately, down the road it's going to put some Airmen out of a job. They will have essentially been outsourced by four little boxes."

According to Mr. Stidham, the new equipment is intended to lower the total cost of ownership by eliminating the navigator position from the crew manning.

"The cost avoidance over the next 20 years is anticipated to be more than $1 billion," he wrote in an e-mail reply to questions.

The AMP will continue to have an enlisted flight engineer and loadmaster on board. The flight engineer monitors engine speeds and other data while the loadmaster is responsible for passengers and cargo in the bay of the aircraft.

The first C-130 AMP flew Sept. 19, 2006, in San Antonio. Testing will continue at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., before officials anticipate delivery for operational testing in 2009.

In the meantime, the major and his team will continue to provide assistance. In late February or early March, he expects to take his team to Boeing's Long Beach Calif., facility to fly in a simulator for two weeks. Later in 2008 or 2009, he expects that he and his fellow members will instruct future IOT&E aircrews from other units. From 2010-2012, he said they'll be busy training their fellow crew members here in the wing so that they'll be ready to open the schoolhouse doors for students.

Currently, the wing trains C-130 students to become instructors in their respective crew positions for Air Education and Training Command. As the wing converts from C-130Es to C-130Hs under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission's recommendations, the C-130 AMP will also begin to roll in. Eventually, the wing will hand off the C-130 instructor school to take on the C-130 AMP school mission.

As with any new or refurbished weapons system, dates could shift, pushing delivery further into the out years.
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