From factory floor to hangar door, the C-130 is supported by a global network of suppliers and facilities.
By John Likakis
At an age when most humans are thinking about retirement, the Lockheed Martin C-130 still works hard every day. And this is not referring to the C-130 just as a design. Some C-130s built in the mid-1950s are still in active service today.
As just one example, International Air Response, a company based in Mesa, Arizona, operates several original C-130A models. Considering that the C-130A went out of production in 1959, it is nothing short of amazing that these original airframes remain in service some 6 decades later.
As remarkable as this is, what makes it even more incredible is that the Hercules is not known for leading a cushy life. These aircraft fly from all kinds of airstrips, under all kinds of conditions, hauling all kinds of loads. And they do so with a degree of reliability that is perhaps second to none in the world of military aviation.
The secret to keeping the Hercules hauling lies in the worldwide community of operators, suppliers, and manufacturers that take supporting of this airframe very seriously. A C-130 that is out of service is more than just a minor inconvenience. It can quite literally mean the difference between life and death, whether the mission involves hauling supplies in or taking people out of desperate situations.
The Hologram Solution
Keeping any airplane airworthy depends on proper repairs with the correct parts. The C-130 is no exception, and Lockheed Martin has spent more than 60 years working in concert with both military and civilian C-130 operators to build a reliable network of repair stations and service centers around the globe.
The latest iteration of this network building is Lockheed Martin’s Hologram Products program, which includes a dozen certified parts manufacturers. As partners under the program, these manufacturers work with the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to ensure that parts and components are made using the correct drawings and materials. This kind of cooperation is especially critical for certain components that require specialized manufacturing processes.
According to Lockheed Martin, each Hologram certified part is inspected by an authorized source inspector before being released for use on an aircraft. This system provides parts and component support for Hercules models as old as the C-130B (which entered production in 1959) right up through the current C-130H and C-130J models.
Complementing the Hologram Certified Parts program are the Hologram Approved Repair Centers. These repair centers use quality assurance procedures that accord with Lockheed Martin’s specifications. In addition, all repairs are done using the most current, correct repair specs and approved Hologram parts. Lockheed Martin’s Hologram repair partners also must have any required special tooling needed to make repairs or overhauls, as well as required test equipment needed for post-repair inspection and certification.
At the time of this writing, Lockheed Martin has six companies that repair C-130s under the Hologram Program. Some, such as Floats and Fuel Cells, specialize in specific areas (fuel cells, in this case). Others, such as Derco Repair Services, can take care of landing gear, instruments, and various accessories.
Just as each C-130 operator is different, each has its own specific needs when it comes to supporting aircraft. Certainly, Lockheed Martin has put a lot of thought, effort, energy, and time into building unique relationships with each operator. The manufacturer also has developed close working relationships with C-130 supporting companies around the world.
Aero Precision, for example, provides military and commercial aviation maintenance and support for more than sixty countries, supplying OEM systems, spares, repairs, and modifications. The company specializes in providing solutions specially tailored for each customer. So no matter what an operator is using their C-130 for, they can match the airframe’s needs.
In addition, Aero Precision goes beyond the regular course of maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) support. It works with OEM vendors, like Eaton Aerospace, Honeywell Defense and Space, UTC Aerospace Systems, and many others, to keep in stock components in anticipation of customer needs. Aero Precision told Aviation Aftermarket Defense that it currently holds more than $100 million in components and spares in its active inventory.
Derco Aerospace is another company that offers extensive Hercules support. Having joined the Lockheed Martin family when Lockheed Martin acquired Sikorsky Aircraft (Derco’s parent company) in 2015, Derco uses sophisticated forecasting methods to predict demand for spares and services. This, in turn, enables the company to effectively manage an inventory of more than 60,000 parts. As a part of the Lockheed Martin Hologram Products program, Derco is an approved repair center for the C-130H.
And, of course, Lockheed Martin acts as a prime source of C-130 support services that range from minimal to total. Indeed, Tom Wetherall, Lockheed Martin’s Director of C-130 Sustainment Business Development, told us that the company’s expansive “arms around” support offering can take care of everything a C-130 operator might ever need— except for supplying the fuel and the flight crew.
Some operators, such as the U.S. Air Force, are large and experienced enough that they have their own mostly self-sufficient support systems. But many smaller operators have neither the capital nor the inclination to build such institutional infrastructure. For them, the Arms Around approach makes perfect sense.
All this support capability sounds great, but the bottom line comes down to how quickly and effectively a broken Hercules can be returned to service. Having suppliers and MRO companies that can fix anything loses its appeal if it takes 6 months to get a fairly basic part, such as a nose-gear steering valve.
Happily, the extensive network of C-130 operators, suppliers, repair and overhaul facilities, and parts stockpiles means that most problems can be dealt with efficiently and quickly. Lockheed Martin’s Wetherall says that response times for grounded aircraft typically average 24 to 48 hours. And with sixteen service centers around the world (fourteen focusing on airframes and two for engines), no broken Hercules should be forced to sit idle for very long.
In a very real sense, the C-130 has developed a global community. Operators, suppliers, MRO facilities, parts manufacturers, and Lockheed Martin have all come together to keep this venerable hauler plying the skies. And that’s just one of the reasons why the Hercules remains a hero to so many people around the world.
Image #1 – Lockheed Martin’s C-130 support starts on the factory floor. Some crucial or unique components are kept in excess stock specifically to handle customer needs out in the field. (Lockheed Martin photo)
Image #2 – Some countries have large enough C-130 fleets and enough experience with the aircraft that they are largely self-supporting. The United States and the United Kingdom, for example, have operated the Hercules since the 1950s and handle their own maintenance and upgrades. Other countries, with only one or two aircraft, can turn to Lockheed Martin’s various programs for support. (Photo by Anthony Ballard, courtesy of the North Carolina Air National Guard)
Image #3 – Backed by a worldwide community of users and service centers, the C-130’s dispatch reliability is outstanding, and few Herky Birds are grounded for very long due to a lack of parts. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)
Image #4 – Older models of the Hercules such as this MC-130E Combat Talon enjoy excellent support from Lockheed Martin and multiple vendors around the world. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)
Image #5 – In service around the globe for more than 60 years, the C-130 is a mainstay of many militaries. In fact, a reported total of 72 countries operate the C-130 in a variety of roles. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)