Wingin’ It: C-130 team installs center wing box

  • Published
  • By Brian Shreve
  • Robins Public Affairs
Some say every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings, but when it comes to large military aircraft, there's a bit more to it than that.

A C-130U model gunship received a new center wing box Tuesday, representing another successful installment for the program and the 560th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

The wing box is the center portion of the C-130 that attaches the wings to the fuselage, essentially the "backbone" of the airplane, according to Scott Latimer, 560th AXMS deputy flight chief for the CWB replacement program.

It took a crew of about 10 mechanics a little more than an hour to lift the CWB and set it atop the plane, although the entire process of replacing the wing box is a two-day event consisting of meticulous leveling tests, bolting hundreds of various fasteners and ending with laser optical tests to verify perfect alignment.

A center wing box is roughly 42 feet long and can weigh up to 10,000 pounds.

Consisting of all new components, the wing box was trucked to Robins directly from the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics plant in Marietta and is the same as those now on the production line for the new J-model aircraft.

The replacement program began in 2004 and has since seen more than 80 wing boxes installed here at Robins for aircraft serving bases around the country, and for most Air Mobility Command airplanes and the U-model fleet.

Once the gunship is completed entirely, it will go to Air Force Special Operations Command headquartered at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

After a certain amount of flying time and cycles, an aircraft's center wing box must be replaced with engineers developing time frames based on flight time predictions and flight activity.

"Depending on what type of mission they fly, it changes that time frame," said Latimer. "This C-130U model gunship, for example, has a pretty aggressive profile."

The wing box removal and replacement is actually the second step of a larger three-phase process, Latimer said. The first step begins in Bldg. 2316, where the aircraft is prepared by disassembling its major components, such as flight controls, the vertical stabilizer, engine flaps and outer wings.

Once the wing box is placed, the aircraft is sent back to Bldg. 2390 where the outer wings are attached and other parts are reassembled before functional tests are conducted. Working on a strict deadline, this most recent gunship must be ready for Phase 3 by Aug. 7, said Latimer.

He added that the entire process has evolved in speed significantly over the years, with what used to take up to 340 days down to a goal of 240 days from start to finish for this C-130.

"With every airplane, we find something that can be done quicker, safer, better, and learn from it to get the airplane to the customer sooner," he said. "The awareness of the crew is crucial. We've come a long way, and we're almost there."