Thursday, January 14, 2010

Taiwan P-3 Orion Aircraft Hit the Open Road

The first of 12 P-3C Orion aircraft purchased by Taiwan is secured on an oversize flatbed tractor trailer in preparation for delivery from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon, Ariz. to the Lockheed Martin facility in Greenville, SC, where it will undergo repairs and upgrades before final delivery to Taiwan.(Official U.S. Navy Photo)

For the first time in almost 50 years a P-3 Orion aircraft travelled nearly 2,000 miles without ever leaving the ground.The first of 12 P-3C Orion aircraft, purchased by Taiwan, successfully completed its overland transport last October from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., to Lockheed Martin’s facility in Greenville, SC, where it will receive standard depot level maintenance, structural service life extension and avionics upgrades in preparation for delivery to Taiwan.

All 12 aircraft were determined to be non-flyable due to structural fatigue. The U.S. Navy Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft Program Office Integrated Product Team led by Bill Tirrell, Taiwan Logistics Manager, and Sam Cowell, IPT Lead for Structures and Authorized Government Technical Representative were tasked with finding a way to disassemble and safely transport the aircraft from Tucson to Greenville.

“The fuselage was the challenge,” said Tirrell. “We looked into transport by rail; however, the fuselage requires special handling. Transport by rail would require the fuselage to be transferred on and off truck beds four times.”

To reduce the risk of damage during loading, the team opted for transportation across country by flatbed truck ¬– a process which would only require moving the fuselage twice. A suitable truck was located and a transport cradle was designed specifically for holding the fuselage. According to Tirrell, the design of the cradle was crucial in preventing structural damage while ensuring the aircraft could sustain the 2,000 mile overland trip and remain operationally capable for Taiwan after reassembly.

The team determined that a refurbished version of the BL-65 tool was the best option for securing the fuselage to the transport cradle. The BL-65 tool was used in the original P-3 production line over 50 years ago as a substitute landing gear to move the aircraft around the production facility safely. “We pulled out the old blueprints and made a few modifications to withstand the heavy lifting that would be necessary to move the aircraft,” Cowell said.

The redesigned BL-65 tool bolted to the aircraft at the wing joints and gave the team a sturdy framework that could be securely fastened to the transport cradle. Finally the entire assembly – fuselage, BL-65 tool apparatus and transport cradle – was chained to the flatbed truck. Once the team designed and built all the specialized components, the aircraft was disassembled and loaded onto nine trucks. Four oversize flatbed trucks carried the fuselage, wings, empennage and horizontal tail section. The remaining five tractor trailers housed a large number of crated components. The engines, propellers and landing gear will be shipped separately to various depots for repair and overhaul prior to final delivery to Greenville.

The careful disassembly and preparation of the aircraft for transport was completed by Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB under budget and in less than the anticipated six months. “When the aircraft arrived at Greenville we performed extensive symmetry and alignment tests on the fuselage and found that all of the transport components performed as expected,” Cowell said. “The aircraft experienced no bending and no twisting during transport. It stayed true to shape.”

The second aircraft is already undergoing disassembly by AMARG and the remaining aircraft will be transported over the next three years. The final aircraft is scheduled to leave Davis-Monthan AFB in June 2013. “We consider the first complete non-destructive disassembly and overland transport highly successful,” Tirrell said. “All of the special support equipment performed as designed and our procedures for loading and transporting the P-3C fuselage have proven successful.”The successful transport of the first P-3C aircraft has caught the interest of other government organizations. The method has been requested by the U.S. Forest Service and Homeland Security, as well as other Foreign Military Sales P-3 operators.

Photo cutline – Taiwan Transport photo


The US has one of the largest airframe reserve in the world. It's smart to capitalize on them with latest electronics and upgrades.


Nevertheless, you should be smart enough to be able to "unbug" them :)

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