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US Air Force suspends C-130s over cracked wing joints

A U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules approaches Yokota Air Base, Japan, March 29, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Yasuo Osakabe)
August 09, 2019

More than one-quarter of all the Air Force’s Total Force C-130 Hercules aircraft have been temporarily grounded for an “atypical” crack found on the plane.

Air Mobility Command (AMC) head Gen. Maryanna Miller ordered 123 of the 450 aircraft to undergo inspection after a crack was found on the lower center wing joint, or the “rainbow fitting,” of one of the planes, according to a press release from the Air Force Reserve Command on Wednesday.

After discovering the crack, Miller ordered the temporary shut down of the 123 aircraft.

The Air Force observed that the crack could lead to the dismantling of the wing from the aircraft, leading to the partial removal of C-130H and C-130J aircraft from operations. The repairs could take “approximately one to two months” and are “dependent on depot level availability and capacity,” AMC spokesman Maj. Jonathan Simmons noted in an email to Defense News on Wednesday.

Eight aircraft so far have gone through inspections and are now able to fly, Simmons added.

According to the the Air Force Reserve Command’s statement, their branch has 27 affected aircraft.

“The Air Force takes the safety of its airmen and aircraft very seriously and is working diligently to identify and repair affected aircraft as soon as possible,” AMC said in its statement.

This development comes at a time when nearly 90 percent of all the Air Force’s B-1B Lancer bombers are not ready for combat.

Only seven out of 61 B-1B Lancer bombers are mission-capable. There are 39 down for inspections and the remaining 15 are in depot maintenance, according to a report by Task and Purpose on July 31.

Gen. John Hyten said during his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on July 30 that the military is over-using and under-maintaining the bombers, causing the disrepair.

“We were just beating the heck out of them, deploying them, deploying them,” Hyten told lawmakers during his request for additional funding to make the necessary repairs. “We had to pull back a little and get after fixing those issues. The depots can do that if they have stable funding.”

Hyten’s comments resemble a pattern of lack of funding for repairs to crucial aircraft in the military, as Gen. Timothy Ray spoke on April 17 to a group of reporters about the fleet’s current state.

“Normally, you would commit — [with] any bomber or any modern combat aircraft — about 40 percent of the airplanes in your possession as a force, [not including those] in depot,” Ray said then, reported. “We were probably approaching the 65 to 70 percent commit rate [for] well over a decade. So the wear and tear on the crews, the maintainers, and certainly the airplane, that was my cause for asking for us to get out of the CENTCOM [Central Command] fight.”