Little Rock refurb crew brings C-130s back to life

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nestor Cruz
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
An aircraft sits in the hangar waiting for its facelift. Inside and out, there are signs of wear and tear: chipped paint, dented metal, torn insulation and peeling decals are a few examples this aircraft has been around.

Airmen from the 19th Equipment Maintenance Squadron's C-130 Hercules refurbishment section are in the business of reviving Air Mobility Command's aging fleet of C-130s.

The refurbishment team starts the process by taking out all removable equipment from the aircraft, including storage bins, escape hatches, galley equipment, floorboards and seats. The aircraft interior is sanded, bead-blasted and painted while Airmen in another section work on the plane's exterior.

"It's like (the TV show) 'This Old House'," said Tech. Sgt. Arthur Billings, a 19th EMS section chief. "We pull the vinyl up and the wood flooring is completely rotted out. We pull that out and find crossbeams with corrosion on it."

Refurbishing aircraft is not an actual Air Force specialty, but a special program.

"We learn how to do each other's jobs," said Staff Sgt. Louis Wilson, a 19th EMS structural maintenance craftsman. "We do all the corrosion inspections, help the crew chiefs pull off equipment and show them or have them show us how to sand ... whoever knows better."

Sergeant Wilson said aircraft are towed to a separate facility for painting after the sanding process.

"We spend a full week painting the interior using about 20 gallons of paint," he said. "After painting, we mask it and start putting equipment and parts back in the plane.

"Basically, it's like (the TV show) 'Pimp My Ride'," Sergeant Wilson added. "We bring the aircraft back to Air Force standards."

By restoring the aging fleet back to Air Force standards, the refurbishment team saves the Air Force thousands of dollars.

"We do a depot-level job here, which saves the Air Force more money rather than flying the plane to depot," Sergeant Billings said. "Our process costs approximately $40,000. To send aircraft to depot would cost approximately $400,000."

Returning aircraft to "better than new" status is a team effort here.

"A lot of organizations have a hand in helping us with the process including the electric shop, life support and sheet metal," Sergeant Billings said.

Camaraderie and morale is high for every Airman involved with the refurbishment process, Sergeant Billings said.

"The Airmen in this section have a very positive attitude and enjoy what they do," he said. "We have a lot of pride in our work, and it's nice when commanders ask us which aircraft are the best ones so they can show them off."

"At the end of the process, after seeing the plane roll in to the time it rolls out, the finished product is a 100 percent turnaround from when it came in," Airman McCormick Said. "What's so unique about this shop is you can actually see what you've done and all the hard work you've put in over the past month."