C-5 suits up for battlefield

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78 ABW/PA
Four Robins Airmen have been working diligently to turn the flight deck of a C-5 Galaxy into an armored safe haven for the aircraft's aircrew.

The team of Airmen from the 653rd Combat Logistics Support Squadron have spent the last few weeks equipping 13 C-5 B series aircraft at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass., with a battle armor kit designed to increase the survivability of aircrew and the aircraft.

"If it saves one life then it's paid for itself 10-fold," said Master Sgt. Rick Fujimoto, a crew chief on the team.

The armor not only protects the lives of Airmen, it also protects the electronics and avionics equipment on the aircraft, he added.

Thomas Chester, the program manager for the project said by using the skills and abilities of the 653rd CLSS "to think outside the box," the Air Force was able to save money and man hours by doing the work in house, rather than contracting it out.

The initial team, comprised of two crew chiefs and two electro-environmental technicians, worked side by side with the contractor, Foster-Miller Inc., to ensure the armor was manufactured correctly and fitted for the C-5 with minimal on-site modifications.

The modification will reduce the threat of damage to vital, internal parts of the aircraft from small arms fire, and will allow the aircraft to travel into critical areas of the area of responsibility.

"Before, they had to be waivered to go into the desert and now they can fly in there unrestricted," said Tech. Sgt. Eli Ortiz, crew chief.

The team explained it was important to complete the installations on the B series first because they are flare modified, which means they are equipped with a defensive system.

Adding the armor "allows them to go down range," said Tech Sgt. Tim Walker, an electro-environmental technician.

The team started in December with one C-5 and an armor kit. The armor is installed in three areas: in the cockpit, around the liquid oxygen bottles and by the troop door. The four-man team began installing the kit and alerted both Robins engineers and Foster-Miller personnel about issues with the installation that could be corrected in later versions of the armor kit.

"We go in and learn it as we go. We become the subject matter experts and then we pass that knowledge on," Sergeant Ortiz said.

Once the initial install was completed the quartet of maintainers left for Westover ARB to begin suiting the C-5 B series with the armor kits.

Because no two aircraft are identical, each aircraft brings its own challenges for the team.

"When we encounter things like that we will make modifications right there and then send specs to the company to be used on future armor kits," Sergeant Walker said.

Sergeant Fujimoto described the armor kits as a "big puzzle" with a few hitches.

The "big puzzle" is made up of pieces similar to blocks that are all put together to form the armor, Sergeant Ortiz said.

The first hitch is once the piece goes it is hard to manipulate them because of the tight spaces.

"You couldn't sneak a BB in between them," Sergeant Fujimoto said.

Another hitch is the industrial adhesive used to install the armor kit. The adhesive, known to the team as "Superman Velcro," can stick unintentionally making installation challenging, said Sergeant Ortiz.

However, Sergeant Fujimoto said there is an upside to the Velcro as "once it's in, it's in."

Another hitch for the team is the 2,200 pounds of armor in each kit with pieces weighing as much as 65 pounds.

"We have to hand carry each individual piece inside the aircraft," Sergeant Fujimoto said.

Once the armor is installed the entire flight deck is encased.Some of the areas on the aircraft that benefit from the armor include the pilot and co-pilot seats, the floor of the flight deck and the bunk area.

One of the advantages of the puzzle construction is if a C-5 is hit by small arms fire, only the piece of armor hit has to be removed and replaced rather than the entire armor kit or a large section of it, Mr. Chester said.

Now that the work at Westover has been completed, the team is taking a six-day reprieve from installing the armor kits before departing for Dover Air Force Base, Del., for about six weeks for additional installations. Once the team has completed the first two bases, the 653rd CLSS will begin using other members of the unit to continue the installation efforts at other bases around the country.