LC-130 Hercules ski-equipped aircraft will no longer require JATO after engine upgrades

LC-130 Hercules ski-equipped aircraft will no longer require JATO after engine upgrades

By Dario Leone
Mar 22 2022
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LC-130 Hercules aircraft will have a smoother takeoff from Antarctica and Greenland thanks to the new T56-8-15A 3.5 engines.

LC-130 Hercules aircraft will have a smoother takeoff from Antarctica and Greenland thanks to the 109th Maintenance Squadron.

As explained by Staff Sgt. Madison Daquelente, 109th Air Wing Public Affairs, in the article 109th Airlift Wing builds 3.5 engine for LC-130 Hercules, propulsion specialists with the 109th assembled the first Air National Guard-built T56 3.5 turbo engine. The 3.5 modification is part of an Air Force initiative to update C-130 aircraft.

The 109th’s engine is the first to be assembled in-unit by Airmen.

This 3.5 engine is the finishing piece to modernizing the 109th’s legacy fleet into a more powerful and eco-friendly force.

Operating the Defense Department’s only ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules aircraft, the 109th MXS deploys annually to the austere environments of Greenland and Antarctica in support of the National Science Foundation.

Occasionally, the aircraft have trouble taking off from icy surfaces of these areas of operation due to heavy cargo loads or friction lock under the skis.

Traditionally, jet-assisted takeoff (JATO) bottles are used to create extra thrust to get the aircraft off the snow or ice and into the air. JATO production, however, officially stopped in 1991.

Maj. Jim Roth, 109th MXS commander, explained the increasing challenges using JATO.

“They are depleting, and every time we use them, we have to shoot eight off at a time, and it begins to present a real logistical concern when it comes to the decreasing supply,” Roth said.

The new T56-8-15A 3.5 engines, combined with the LC-130H’s NP2000 eight-bladed propellers, are the answer to beginning to shift away from JATO bottles.

“The updated features allow the aircraft to create the same thrust as JATO bottles but at lower operating temperatures, making them more eco-friendly,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Candido, a propulsion specialist with the 109th. “We’re looking at an efficiency of about 20 percent more fuel efficiency compared to the 3.0 engine.”

The aircraft will also be able to carry heavier cargo loads to remote polar regions.

“We are the only heavy airlift able to reach these remote polar camps. These new engines allow for greater range and capacity. We’re advancing the Arctic Strategy that much more,” Roth said. “It’s the expertise and abilities of 109th Airmen like Jason Candido that drive us forward.”

Candido, who has been at the 109th for more than 10 years, was one of the Airmen who assembled the new engine.

LC-130 Hercules ski-equipped aircraft will no longer require JATO after engine upgrades

“This is the exact same engine that we’ve been using for years. Just the internals are different,” Candido said. “The updated engine uses different types of metal in the turbine and compressor that have better heat retention, giving us the same power at lower temperatures.”

Assembling the 3.5 engine is a two-person job that took approximately a month to complete, he said.

The improved engines will also cut down on frequent maintenance and inspection.

When the LC-130Hs finished the transition from four to eight-bladed propellers in 2018, Candido said there was a noticeable difference in maintenance time.

“Whenever we had a seal leak in Antarctica, you couldn’t replace that one blade. You had to do the entire process to put a brand new one back on,” Candido said.

The eight-bladed propellers, however, are designed for a simpler fix in the event of a seal leak.

“We went from having an engine with a day-and-a-half downtime to maybe two hours, and then it’s flying again,” Candido said.

The 109th propulsion shop has the approval to assemble the rest of the 3.5 engines, some in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Members from the 109th MXS will attend a conference at the end of March to discuss a timeline to outfit all LC-130Hs with the 3.5 engines.

“We are plowing ahead with our own builds to help supplement the force. We are building ours quickly, so we’re ready to go as soon as possible,” Roth said.

The LC-130 is the polar version of the familiar C-130 cargo plane. Its unique feature is the ski-equipped landing gear, which enables operation on snow or ice surfaces throughout Antarctica. The plane also has wheels for landing on prepared hard surfaces.

The LC-130 four-engine turboprop transport aircraft is the backbone of US Transportation within Antarctica and also provides air service between McMurdo Station, Antarctica and New Zealand. The LC-130 fleet supports a wide range of scientific research on climate change, global warming, ozone depletion, earth history, astronomy and environmental change.

The US is the only operator of ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules aircraft in the world.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Søren Wedel Nielsen (Copyright 2005) Own work via Wikipedia

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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