Close air support for France’s transport fleet is a team effort between industry and the air force.
The French Air Force, the Atelier Industriel Aéronautique (AIA) – the principal centre for aircraft engine maintenance - and Rolls-Royce are working together to maintain France’s vital tactical airlift capability.
‘The C-130 has no use-by date,’ says Commandant Bonnétat who is responsible for looking after the C-130’s T56 engines at the air base, ‘and the kind of extreme conditions that it is encountering in Afghanistan are not new. They are similar to the ones we find in our African deployments in Chad, Gabon and Djibouti for example.’ As well as two variants of the C-130 operated by France – the ‘H’ and the five metre longer ‘H30’ – the T56 also equips the French Navy’s E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft, AIA of Bordeaux also maintains and repairs these engines. Fifty-eight years after the first version was launched, over 16,000 Rolls-Royce T56 and 501 (commercial T56) engines have been produced, with nearly half of those still in service in a total of 70 countries.
Some squadrons also fly Tyne-powered Transalls, which will remain in service until 2018. The replacement of the Transalls with the new Airbus A400M military transport aircraft powered by the TP400 engine will further extend the long-term partnership that Rolls-Royce has had with the French Air Force for its strategic transport operations.
When the T56 engine needs on-wing maintenance, the air force mechanics are the first in action. ‘They have the basic level of responsibility for on-condition maintenance of the C-130H but they have zero stock of spare parts, that's AIA's responsibility, so we keep some parts here on site,’ Emmanuel says. ‘If the issue seems to be beyond the on-wing maintenance level then the AIA takes over, particularly if it emerges that we have to remove the engine from the aircraft.’
In order to be able to work independently on the T56, AIA had to get accreditation from Rolls-Royce. The ‘AMOF’ (Authorised Military Overhaul Facility) accreditation was awarded to the AIA in September 2007 after a stringent audit. There are only four such facilities worldwide. AMOF status means AIA is an Original Equipment Manufacturer repair centre and can completely overhaul the engine. Lt Colonel Kiert of AIA adds: ‘This AMOF was a very important step for us because it proved that we had the technical competence necessary to be able to carry out overhauls independently. It was the prelude to an important change in the maintenance of the C-130 in mid-2008, when we were charged with the global maintenance and supply of spare parts and spare engines. Before then we simply did what we were asked: the part would be sent to us and we were told what to do with it but since mid-2008 we have had a considerable rise in our level of responsibility. Without the extremely efficient support of Rolls-Royce we would not have managed.’
Rolls-Royce support included help in defining what spare parts the AIA needed to buy from exclusive distributor Aviall. Getting the quantity of spares right was crucial – if there are too many, money is tied up in inventory, and if there aren't enough the repairs cannot be undertaken in good time. ‘Rolls-Royce had the expertise to be able to advise us on the parts which we had to have in stock and our ambition is to function with the minimum stock possible,’ says Lt Colonel Kiert. In addition, Rolls-Royce also has a field service engineer based in Orléans-Bricy to provide day-to-day support.
‘When the AIA bought seven spare T56 engines Rolls-Royce ensured that we were able to source high quality engines despite the fact that the T56 series III is no longer manufactured,’ Lt Colonel Kiert says.
The French Air Force maintenance contract includes challenging availability targets. Emmanuel Lefer believes that to help meet these targets, his daily job here is to avoid removing the engine.
If the engine does need to be removed, then a quick engine change is performed with the engine, propeller and the casing taken off in one piece.
Once the engine arrives in Bordeaux, the teams strip it down and the parts are all cleaned and minutely checked for cracks. Decisions are taken as to which repairs are required and how these should be conducted.
An integral part of the Rolls- Royce/AIA partnership was the training provided for a small team of AIA technicians at the company’s training centre in Indianapolis. ‘The working atmosphere was really extraordinary,’ remarks Lt Colonel Kiert. At the end of 2010 the three most experienced technicians returned to Indianapolis to attend the two-week intensive and high-level ‘heavy programme’ training course aimed specifically at the T56 series III.
‘Regular meetings with the in-country Rolls-Royce team enable us to work through any potentially difficult situations and make for an extremely productive way to work. I've worked with quite a number of industrialists and I would put Rolls-Royce way above the others when it comes to concern for the client,’ he continued.
Thanks to the support team at AIA, the T56 seems likely to power through such challenges to ensure the air force’s mission critical operations continue whatever the challenges of the environment.