Losses and Aviation Safety

“MAINTENANCE ERROR DAMAGED E-8C JSTARS AIRCRAFT,” USAF MATERIEL COMMAND ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION BOARD SAYS

Contractor maintenance personnel covered three drain holes in aircraft’s radar radome on the belly of the aircraft causing water from washings and rain to collect in the canoe-shaped radome

A maintenance error damaged U.S. Air Force (USAF) E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) surveillance aircraft assigned to the 116th Air Control Wing at Robins Air Force Base (AFB), Georgia.

The problem was discovered after the JSTARS aircraft underwent programmed depot maintenance at the Northrop Grumman contractor maintenance facility in Lake Charles, Louisiana, from Mar. 2015 to Jul. 2016.

According to a recently released Air Force Materiel Command accident investigation board report in fact, contractor maintenance personnel covered three drain holes in aircraft’s radar radome on the belly of the aircraft causing water from washings and rain to collect in the canoe-shaped radome.

The water eventually damaged the aircraft’s radar antenna and other electrical components, including 240 circuit cards.

Total damage is estimated at $7.35 million.

The report concluded that Northrop Grumman maintenance personnel failed to ensure the drain holes were uncovered during an inspection after the aircraft was washed and four pre-flight inspections prior to the plane’s return flight to Robins AFB. Upon the aircraft’s arrival at Robins AFB, maintenance personnel discovered the damage during a routine inspection.

There were no injuries to any civilian or military personnel and no damage to private property resulting from the damage to the JSTARS.

The E-8C is a modified Boeing 707-300 series commercial airframe extensively remanufactured and modified with the radar, communications, operations and control subsystems required to perform its operational mission. The most prominent external feature is the 27-foot (8 meters) long, canoe-shaped radome under the forward fuselage that houses the 24-foot (7.3 meters) long, side-looking phased array antenna.

The JSTARS or Joint STARS, is an airborne battle management, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform. Its primary mission is to provide theater ground and air commanders with ground surveillance to support attack operations and targeting that contributes to the delay, disruption and destruction of enemy forces.

The JSTARS fleet consists of 16 E-8C aircraft and one E-8A trainer.

Source: U.S. Air Force; Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Shane Cuomo / U.S. Air Force

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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