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USAF eyes prop, comm's upgrades for firefighting C-130s

An eight-bladed propeller and a satellite communications upgrade are being considered for a small subset of the Air Force Reserve fleet of Lockheed Martin C-130H airlifters used for firefighting.

The United Technologies Aerospace Systems (UTAS) NP2000 system, already installed on the Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, emerged as a potential upgrade when Air Force reserve component leaders gathered for a combat planning council, says Col Robert Stanton, Operations Group commander of the modular airborne firefighting system (MAFFS) squadron from Peterson Air Force Base.

The Air Force Reserve is also considering adding the same satellite radio already installed on the WC-130J weather reconnaissance fleet, which, like the firefighting C-130H fleet, regularly flies in weather that disrupts terrestrial communications links, Brig Gen Albert Lupenski, director of Air Force Reserve plans, programmes and requirements, says.

The combat planning council meets to decide priorities that should receive funding under the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Appropriation (NGREA).

“They’re actively looking to purchase it and we can use this NGREA,” he says. “Right now we’re still working details on how to procure. Hopefully, it will happen more quickly than further down the road. It’s something that’s on our radar.”

The combat planning council is a preliminary step and the Reserve may not see the capability on the C-130H fleet for years to come. Still, Stanton hopes the off-the-shelf capability will shorten the fielding time for the satellite radio, which took eight years to appear on the WC-130J fleet.

Not unlike the WC-130J fleet, the Air Force Reserve operates the firefighting C-130s in severe weather conditions, but the aircraft are older and have less engine power. These eight C-130Hs operated by the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson AFB, Colorado, are equipped with the MAFFS, which includes an aerial dispenser for a 3,000gal tank of retardant foam for suppressing wildfires.

The six-bladed GE Aviation-Dowty propeller on the WC-130J produces over 4,700shp, or more than 100shp more thrust than the four-bladed propeller on the C-130H. The addition of the eight-bladed propeller on the legacy aircraft would not equal the J’s thrust, but preliminary tests of the NP2000 propellers on a C-130H at Edwards AFB, California in 2010 proved a significant safety enhancement, Stanton says.

A correction has been made to the title and attribution of Brig Gen Albert Lupenski and Col Robert Stanton.

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