A contract amendment signed on 7 November by the Brazilian navy's directorate of aeronautics and Marsh Aviation revives a long-delayed programme to refurbish and re-engine four ex-US Navy Grumman S-2 Trackers.
The new contract terms also acknowledge the entry of Elbit Systems of America’s subsidiary M7 Aviation, of San Antonio, Texas, into the programme.
The original Brazilian Tracker contract was signed on 20 October 2011 covering the airframe refurbishment, re-engining and systems transformation of four ex-US Navy C-1A Traders into “KC-2” Turbo Traders. It also revived the C-1A fleet for military operations, a role that had been on hold since the US Navy retired the aircraft 26 years ago.
The Brazilian Navy’s São Paulo aircraft carrier due to its age is constrained in both catapult strength and flight deck length making the operation of the modern but much larger and heavier Northrop Grumman E-2D Hawkeye aircraft impossible.
Due to this limiting factor, the Brazilian Navy acquired eight Grumman C-1A airframes previously stored in the US military’s aircraft boneyard outside Tucson, Arizona. The transaction is listed as a “grant” in a database maintained by the US military’s arms export unit – the Defense Security and Cooperation Agency. The database lists the current value of the C-1A airframe as $32,000.
Seeking to minimise risk, Brazil decided to rely on a tried and tested re-engining program developed by Marsh Aviation to have four of the aircraft converted to carrier on board delivery (COD) and air-to-air refueling aircraft.
The C-1A’s original Wright R-1820-8WA radial engines will be replaced by Honeywell TPE331-14GR turboprops fitted with Hartzell HC-135MA-5 five-blade propellers. The analogue cockpit is to be modernised with an Astronautics electronic flight instrument system kit. These Brazilian Traders are currently stored in the Marsh Aviation lot in Mesa, Arizona.
Brazil’s S-2 modernisation programme was first delayed because Marsh’s conversion line was effectively closed since the end of Turbo Tracker deliveries to the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection. It had to be restarted from scratch.
After that Marsh and its president were charged with conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act by supplying refit North American OV-10 Bronco T-76 engines to the embargoed Venezuelan Air Force between 2005 and 2008.
As a US Government investigation was started on all of Marsh’s activities, which almost led to the company’s bankruptcy, the S-2 conversion project for the Brazilian navy was suspended for years.
“This [investigation] has caused the temporary loss of [Marsh Aviation’s] ability to legally continue to deliver the contracted services” stated a Brazilian Navy Public Affairs Office release in March 2013. That document also said that “Marsh has been found innocent by the US Department of Justice in October 2012”, but in order to get there Floyd Stilwell then president of Marsh Aviation pleaded guilty and had to pay a $250,000 fine. He also had to step down of the presidency and be replaced by his daughter.
A technical assistance agreement was signed in 2013 between the Navy and Marsh allowing for a number of Department of State recommendations to be adopted by Marsh Aviation.
The Brazilian Navy’s way around these issues was to approve a Marsh Aviation plan to establish an alliance with Elbit Systems of America’s M7 subsidiary.
Marsh and M7 will now proceed with the execution of the re-engining and upgrade services, with Marsh Aviation remaining as the “main contractor”, as this should stave bankruptcy and keep the Brazilian contract “alive” through all the turbulence.
The first KC-2 prototype flight is expected for November 2017 and the delivery of the first operational aircraft to the Brazilian Navy is scheduled for December 2018.
Future KC-2 flight crew are already receiving basic flying training in the Brazilian Air Force Academy. Carrier conversion is done in the US Navy where they fly the T-45 at NAS Kingsville and later go to the advanced multi-engine MPTS E-2/C-2 pipeline in Corpus Christi, Texas, flying T-44C Pegasus.
When they are delivered the Turbo Traders and Trackers will be operated by the newly created First Transport and Early Warning Squadron (VEC-1) based in the Sao Pedro d’Aldeia Naval Air Station located west Rio de Janeiro.