Germany’s Bundeswehr might be taking delivery of its first Airbus Defence & Space A400M transport in November, but the tactical airlifter’s venerable predecessor – the Transall C-160 – is to remain in service until almost the end of the decade.
Designed in the late 1950s to replace the piston-engined, twin-tailboom Nord Noratlas, the C-160 (pictured participating in the USAF's Air Mobility Rodeo 2009 at McChord AFB in Washington) entered service with the French and German air forces in 1967 and 1968, respectively. The aircraft was jointly built by France’s Nord Aviation as well as Germany’s Vereinigte Flugtechnische Werke in Bremen and Hamburger Flugzeugbau in a pre-Airbus partnership called Transporter Alliance or, in short, Transall.
Today, the Luftwaffe’s remaining active fleet comprises 69 C-160s, which were delivered between 1968 and 1972, Flightglobal’s MiliCAS database shows. The plan is to replace them with A400Ms by 2018 and decommission the last Transall by 2019, says Brig Gen Rudolf Maus. So when the C-160 finally leaves the force, the Rolls-Royce Tyne Mk.22-powered turboprop will have been in service for more than half a century.
Maintenance for the Transall is provided through a series of light to medium checks. This comprises two levels of hourly post-flight inspections and more intensive periodic inspections. The latter are conducted after six months or 300 flight hours. The checks take place at Germany’s three C-160 bases – Hohn, Landsberg and Wunstorf – as well a dedicated maintenance, repair and overhaul unit for the Luftwaffe.
After nine years of flight operations, the aircraft need to undergo a full overhaul. The heavy checks are undertaken by Airbus at its site in Manching, between Munich and Nuremberg. The facility also supports the German navy’s Lockheed P-3 Orion maritime patrol turboprops and NATO’s Boeing 707-based E-3A AWACS aircraft.
Due to the Transall’s high age, corrosion and general wear and tear of the airframe and its equipment have become a key focus of C-160 overhauls, says Maus. This increasingly also includes components that are originally not life-limited parts. Many systems which are electronically controlled on more modern aircraft are purely mechanical on the C-160. To keep them in good working order and ensure operational reliability, the parts in question need careful maintenance, he adds.
Spare part availability has increasingly become a challenge, as the type stays longer in service than previously planned. Some parts are difficult to source on the market for the air force, the defence ministry and industrial partners, says Maus. In certain cases, obsolete parts need to be replaced. But due to certification requirements for new parts, this is “difficult and expensive”, especially for small batch productions for the legacy fleet, he says.