From the concerns over the angle attack for the Boeing 737 MAX and an early pre-emptive alert for the same issue on the Airbus 320neo through the European Union Air Safety Agency the attention has suddenly turned to the old and reliable workhorse, the C-130 Hercules with the United States Air Force temporarily grounding 123 aircraft after a crack was discovered in the lower centre wing joint.
Known in maintenance as the ‘rainbow fitting’ the Air Mobility Command ordered the stand down as a safety measure. The assessment was that the wing could possibly come loose from the aircraft in flight and it called for this immediate and drastic step. Whether it is metal fatigue or simply an isolated single aircraft incident will have to be seen. Eight are reportedly cleared of any problem.
And what concern is this to the Indian Air Force? We have 11 C-130s in service and 12 Super Hercules on order. In March 2014, the IAF lost a C-130 near Gwalior and a second one of the first six was irreparably damaged. The big question now is whether the IAF Maintenance Command should order a check of the fleet. The C-130 has been a great addition to the Indian transport wing. It has served in the search for MH 370, helped thousands of lives during the Uttarkhand and Kashmir floods, performed rescue missions after the Nepal earthquake and rescued over 1,500 people during the Chennai flood crisis last year.
With its ability to land on soft strips and in need of a very short run, it’s ideal for airdrop in hilly terrain, expedites troop and tank and artillery movement and the supply of cargo to frontline troops the C-130 has proven more than its worth.
Therefore, it only stands to reason the Indian Air Force will and must put the microscope on the rainbow fittings on its fleet and ensure that these planes are fit to fly. The odds are they are but if the USAF has found it necessary to check them out it would be silly and shortsighted not to do so.
Over 400 C-130s have been manufactured by Lockheed Martin and it enjoys the record of probably being the longest-running non-stop manufacture of any military aircraft.
The reason why one should raise a flag is largely because the Indian Air Force is generally dealing with an ageing fleet across the board and its accident rate is intimidating.
As many as 27 fighters have crashed in the last five years killing 12 pilots and seven other crew members and the last was just this week when a Sukhoi 30 crashed in Tezpur in Assam. It can also be recalled that in June the Indian Air Force lost an Antonov An-32 with 13 people on board in Arunachal Pradesh on a flight from Jorhat.
If the crashes involving helicopters, trainers and transporters are included then the losses go up to 38. It includes six helicopters, nine trainers and three transport aircraft were lost.
It can only be good news if an inspection shows there are no problems with the rainbow fittings but not to check them out would be indefensible. And the reason for this ‘riding on our luck’ approach is the current mindset in the ranks because the air force has been shunted so far behind the state-of-the-art curve that its pilots have become resigned to the needlessly high accident rate. Even the best of maintenance can do nothing against age and metal fatigue.