The information in the 1972/3 report below was generously provided by Dr. William Head, who is the chief historian at Warner‑Robins. Due to the conversion of a Word Perfect document to HTML via Microsoft Word (whew!!), the links and footnotes at the bottom of the report were non‑functional or dead and have been removed.
In FY02, the C‑141A/B/C Starlifter aircraft, the aging "workhorse" of the Air Force, continued to carry out a multi‑various number and kind of exigencies by airlifting combat forces over long distances, delivering equipment by air or airdrop, and transporting the sick and wounded from hostile zones to medical accommodations. Lockheed engineers built the C‑141A between 1963 and 1968. Following the Arab‑Israeli conflict of 1973, it became clear that the C‑141A lacked capacity and an aerial refueling capability. To this end, between 1978 and 1982, Lockheed and Air Force planners and workers "e;stretched" the fuselage increasing its cargo capacity by one‑third and added an in‑flight refueling capacity. The development of the "stretched" Bmodel had "the same overall effect as increasing the number of aircraft by 30 percent." Over the years, the C‑141 force amassed nearly nine million flying hours performing training, worldwide airlift, combat support, and humanitarian aid.
In FY02, the C‑141 carried on its airlift legacy, but its days were numbered. Air Force officials had long since decided to replace all grand old ladies with the new C‑17 by 2006. Lockheed had originally built 276 C‑141As. During FY01, personnel retired twenty‑nine C‑141s to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Groupr (AMARG), Davis‑Monthan AFB,Arizona , while they retired 19 more in FY02. Accounting for aircraft losses and previous retirements over the years only 99 C‑141B/Cs remained in service with the Air National Guard (ANG) and Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC). Throughout FY02, the C‑141 continued to be a key component in America strategic airlift fleet and a major player in the realization of its basic airlift doctrine of "Global Airlift Mobility." It has been a key USAF weapon system sustained and managed at WR‑ALC for nearly 40 years. Even as the workforce prepared to deactivate the C‑141 fleet, they continued to upgrade key systems to assure crew safety and mission success. Indeed, the author recommends that the reader consult the FY98‑FY01 WR‑ALC Annual Histories for further background on the C‑141 aircraft and recent modifications such as Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) and Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS).
While developers made TCAS and TAWS
to be two separate avionics systems, Air Force
technicians discovered that they operated well together on the C‑141
aircraft. Designers created TCAS to reduce the potential for midair
collisions. They created TCAS to operate independently from, and yet
supplement, the air traffic control (ATC) system. If the system
determined that an aircraft was a threat, TCAS provided the aircrew with both
aural and visual data to avoid midair collisions. By the end of FY02,
WR-ALC C‑141 SPO employees had installed the TCAS II, the most current version
of TCAS, on all the remaining C‑141 aircraft.
Designers made TAWS to help prevent accidents caused by Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT) or severe wind shear effects. They designed the system to achieve this objective by accepting a variety of aircraft parameters as inputs, applying alerting algorithms, and providing the flight crew with aural alert messages, visual annunciations, and displays in the event that the dynamic boundaries of any alerting envelope were exceeded. System components included: Aircraft Sensors and other systems providing input signals, the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning Computer (EGPWC), Flight Deck Audio Systems (Speaker and Interphone), Alert Lamps and/or digital outputs to EFIS [Electronic Flight Instrument System] and EICAS [Engine Indication and Crew Alert System] displays (for alert and system status messages), EFIS Navigation Displays (ND) or Weather Radar Indicator for display of terrain, and Switching Relay(s) when required for switching display inputs from weather display to terrain display.
System developers also designed TAWS to be completely compatible with normal multi‑ engine transport aircraft operations. They intended that unwanted alerts would be very rare if the flight crew maintained situational awareness with respect to the terrain and if they followed correct avoidance procedures for any significant wind shear activity. Moreover, they integrated several main alerting functional areas into the EGPWC which acted as a single Line Replaceable Unit (LRU). Except for the basic Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS), crew members selected each function by using a pin. The functional areas included: Basic Ground Proximity Warning, Altitude Awareness Call‑outs, Excessive Bank Angle Alert, Windshear Detection and Alerting, Terrain Clearance Floor, and Enhanced features, Terrain Awareness Alerting and Warning, as well as optional display of this information. Pilots obtained the terrain display by providing GPS time and location data to the TAWS processor. The processor took that information and employed it to access and display the terrain features from a worldwide terrain database stored in the TAWS processor.
Since FY98, the C‑141 TCAS/TAWS program has been a Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) mandated modification that qualified the C‑141 to meet current International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Navigational Safety requirements for passenger‑carrying aircraft. Officials expected it to provide aircrews with the situational awareness necessary to avoid midair collisions and CFIT. As such, WR-ALC C‑141 personnel proceeded with the procurement of C‑141 TCAS/TAWS LRUs from Original Equipment Managers (OEMs) through an Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract managed by the Global Air Traffic Management (GATM) SPO at Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts .
In August 1998, after a competitive process awarded a contract to Raytheon Systems Company (RSC), Waco, Texas, to design, develop, and integrate Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) into the C‑141 aircraft. The contract required TCAS II to be integrated into the C‑141B and TCAS/TAWS into the C‑141C aircraft.
By the end of FY02, the 82 aircraft scheduled for TCAS/TAWS and TCAS II modifications had been completed. The C‑141 workforce had installed TCAS/TAWS on 53 C‑141C models and TCAS II on 19 C‑141Bs. The workforce completed work on the last modification aircraft during PDM on 28 September 2002. In October 2002, personnel also incorporated the Change 7 Software Upgrade to improve safety and compatibility with international airspace requirements.
Another important upgrade was the
Global Positioning System Enhanced Navigation System (GPSENS) and its
incorporation into the C‑141 aircraft.
The Navigational Standard Radar (NAVSTAR) GPS program began in 1980 as a tri‑service modification project consisting of three major subsystems: the space segment, operations and control segment, and user equipment (UE) segment. They operated together to provide worldwide navigation capabilities to numerous Army, Navy (Marine), and Air Force ground and airborne platforms. Indeed, engineers fashioned NAVSTAR GPS to act as a space‑based high‑quality global radio, navigation, and time‑transfer system that provided precise three‑dimensional position, velocity, and time information to users. From the outset, military planners determined to employ GPS to streamline navigational requirements and reduce communications confusion thus reducing flight time and fuel consumption. Throughout its 22‑year life cycle GPS has successfully operated in combat successfully coordinating with bombing and other weapons delivery systems.
By the late 1990s, systems developers had created the more modern GPSENS to provide new navigational modes for the C‑141aircraft. This included a combination of the GPS/Inertial Navigation System (INS) and an independent GPS, and independent INS. The GPSENS afforded superior operator cockpit management of the navigation and communication systems. Systems experts used commercial GPS units pursuant to a June 1994 directive from Headquarters (HQ) Air Mobility Command Commander (HQ AMC/CC), due to the lower cost and accelerated delivery schedules which the commercial cards (internal circuit boards) provided. WR-ALC and Command personnel determined that under IAW FY97‑02 Programmed Objective Memorandum (POM) the program cost would be $23.6 million in FY96, $18.7 million in FY97, $7.5 million in FY98, and $4.0 million in FY99‑‑for a total of $53.8 million.
On 24 February 1995, WR-ALC C‑141 and Contracting (WR‑ALC/PK) officials co‑chaired an Acquisition Strategy Roundtable Panel. They decided to fully integrate GPS on the C‑141B. Thus, on 30 August 1995, they awarded Engineering Change Proposal (ECP) contract modification F09603‑93‑C‑0322‑P00021 to Chrysler Technologies Airborne Systems (CTAS), Waco, Texas , for the existing Autopilot Replacement Program (ARP) contract.
In spite of some early road blocks, WR-ALC C‑141 management and employees worked very hard on this program. In 1997, Congress mandated that GPSENS with GPS capabilities be incorporated into all civilian and military Flight Management Systems (FMSs). With this tasking before them, LJ personnel geared up to modify 63 C‑141C models owned by AMC but used by ANG and AFRC operational units. Over the next five years this process successfully unfolded.
The GPSENS upgrade added a Navigation Processor (NP)‑based FMS which replaced the Fuel Savings Advisory System (FSAS). Technicians also integrated the new FMS into the All Weather Flight Control System (AWFCS). The GPSENS dual system provided 100 percent redundancy for FMS operations affording an integrated or independent navigational solution under all circumstances. The new system also operated coupled to, or uncoupled from, the autopilot providing a Lateral and Vertical Guidance capability. In addition, it furnished the C‑141C with a FMS airdrop capacity and FMS Non‑Precision Approach ability.
The setup allowed GPSENS commands to be input through a Multi‑Function Control Display Unit (MFCDU) that system designers created so it would be compatible with the Night Vision Imaging System (NVIS). Finally, it employed a Digital Navigational Database (DND) furnished by Honeywell Defense Avionics Systems, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The DND allowed aircrew members to enter flight plan data that the FMS followed once it had been activated.
On 27 June 2000, the LJ workforce initiated the installation process, concurrent with TCAS/TAWS modifications. After initial installations, employees tested C‑141 GPSENS Take Off and Landing Data (TOLD) and OFP Block Cycle #1 software upgrades together at the RSC C‑141 Simulation Laboratory. In October, they conducted the first regression test of the new software version. In January 2001, test experts carried out successful flight tests on the new software. They completed regression tests in conjunction with airdrop tests from 9‑13 April 2001. On 19 June, leaders at AMC gave their approval for the operational use of GPSENS which provided C‑141C s with airdrop and automated TOLD capabilities. In June and July, the workforce completed tests and published the technical data. Concurrently, they began fleet software installation on 25 June and completed it on 30 August 2001. By November 2002, LJ personnel had completed all 63 aircraft in conjunction with Programmed Depot Maintenance at Robins AFB; the final aircraft being C‑141C tail number (T/N) 65‑9414.
In FY02, LJ technical experts
(WR‑ALC/LJLM) persevered in their efforts to sustain the reliability and
maintainability (R&M) of the C‑141C advanced avionics. While FY02
witnessed the continued release of avionics Operational Flight Program (OFP)
Block Cycle #1 following the GPSENS TOLD and airdrop releases. Even as
this cycle progressed, on 1 June 2002, personnel began preparing to field OFP
Block Cycle #2. They also began precursory work on software changes for
OFP Block Cycle #3, which was tentatively scheduled for fielding in early 2003.
The OFP Block Cycle #2 contained several changes, including alterations to the
AWFCS and GPSENS LRU OFPs. Programmers
succeeded in combining the GPSENS navigation processor into both the aircraft
and aircraft simulator OFPs. This allowed
concurrent fielding of both OFPs, eliminating any
delays in crew training. This saved the Air Force $500,000 in development
costs. The OFP Block Cycle #2 also contained several changes designed to
enhance AWFCS and GPSENS LRU maintenance and facilitate air crew usage.
Members of the Avionics User Working Group (AUWG) recommended all these
Throughout recent years, LJ has held meetings (usually annually) of the AUWG, which officials formed from unit‑level air crews and maintainers. In this form analysts received feed back on software changes and other issues. Based on these very candid gatherings LJ software experts determined which software alterations should have priority. At the same time, group representatives participated in all design reviews held by the contractor to ensure that software changes met the intent of the original requested modifications. This process has guaranteed direct operational personnel involvement in the sustainment of the C‑141C.
As the fiscal year ended, even though they all knew the C‑141s would soon be only museum fixtures, the WR-ALC C‑141 maintainers continued to care for their beloved old "trash haulers" as if they were brand new"with dedication and concern.
The next topic provides an example
of why procedures are in place when preparing and aircraft for take off and why
the vast majority of Air Force missions are undertaken with little difficulty
and seem to most to be very routine. Indeed, sometimes the average person
forgets just how uncertain flight can be. Only the expertise of
maintainers at ALCs like WR‑ALC and the careful inspection of each
aircraft prior to each sortie prevents disaster.
On 20 December 2001, an ANG C‑141C T/N 61‑2778 at Memphis ANG, Memphis International Airport, Tennessee, began preparations to rotate with one of four other C‑141Cs then flying supply missions from Ramstein Air Base, Germany to U.S. Air Force and Navy installations in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf as part of the European‑Strategic Intra‑theater Deployment in ancillary support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
As the local ground crew in Memphis began preparations they discovered a fuel leak on the left wing. As a result, maintenance personnel at Memphis attempted to isolate the source of the leak. However, after several hours they had not been able to find it. With the aircraft mission due to begin the next day, they opted to use a fuel pressurization test to locate the leak. As such, they installed plugs in the vent lines to carry out the pressurization test on the fuel tanks. Unfortunately, the test team, confronted with a tight schedule, failed to use the proper aircraft write up forms and plugs or consult the correct process guidelines. The results soon proved catastrophic for the aircraft.
Memphis personnel pressurized the fuel tanks and soon discovered the location of the leak. They repaired the crack using a sealant cure and re‑secured the tanks in the aircraft's left wing. Overlooked at the time, they had forgotten to remove the plug. Moreover, the plug they used, unlike the ones used by LJ had no pressure realize safety valve.
On 21 December, personnel began fueling the aircraft on the flightline in preparation for the mission. As the fueling progressed, pressure built up in the left side inner wing fuel tanks. After workers had loaded 120,000 pounds of fuel, the pressure in the inner wing exceeded its ability to withstand the amount of pressure and ruptured spilling 9,000 gallons of jet fuel onto the tarmac. Indeed, the lower wing surface had ruptured causing a catastrophic wing failure. With the left wing incapable of holding any weight, the aircraft tipped over on its right side wing tip and came to rest on its outboard engine nacelle. Fortunately, ground crews acted rapidly and were able to contain the spill before it reached the nearby Nonconnah Creek.
No crew members were injured and while one member of the cleanup detail slipped and broke his leg and another hurt his shoulder, their fast action prevented a bad situation from being much worse.
Initially, uncertain about the cause of the mishap, Tennessee ANG officials halted operations at Memphis and contacted AMC management at Scott AFB, Illinois. Wisely, senior AMC leaders, concerned there might be a fleet‑wide issue, decided to ground all 99 C‑141s worldwide.
Not surprisingly, officials immediately called in the WR-ALC LJ structural experts. On a bleak Saturday morning, three days before Christmas, LJ troubleshooters Russell Alford, Buddy Craine, and Jim Ware boarded a C‑21 military aircraft and flew to Memphis.
As Alford recalled, "as soon as I saw the damage I knew it had to be an over pressurization." Alford and his team decided to conduct a full scale examination of the aircraft but as he noted, "the only question was if a plug had been left in or some other occlusion of the vent system had cause the mishap?" As soon as they opened the vent box access panel they had their answer. In their rush to meet their deadline, Memphis personnel had left the "unvented" plug in the vent.
The team soon determined that the accident was not caused by fleet wide structural failures but to ground crew error. By Christmas, AMC leaders had given permission for the remaining C‑141s to resume operations.
The only remaining question facing officials was what to do with the wrecked aircraft. After a thorough examination of the aircraft, LJ, ANG, and AMC leaders and experts conferred. As Alford put it, "it did not take rocket science to determine we did not want to pay what it would take to repair the aircraft, when it was scheduled for retirement in a couple of years anyway." As he noted, "we would have made it airworthy just in time to fly it to the bone yard." Ultimately, those involved all agreed to scrap the old bird. Over the following weeks several workers removed usable parts to act as replacement items for the remaining C‑141Cs.
As they always seem to do, WR-ALC personnel had taken a difficult situation and done their best to make the best of it. Only three months after the 9/11 terror attacks maintainers in Memphis, under great stress, overlooked a minor detail and lost a C‑141.
No reasonable person can believe that even an organization as careful and efficient at the ANG never makes mistakes. No organization can say that! However, in the face of this mishap the fast response of Memphis personnel contained the spill and prevented an environmental disaster.
At the same time, AMC and LJ leaders and experts immediately determined the nature of the problem and safely and quickly got the C‑141 fleet back in the air. Ultimately, team work and solving problems is what makes the Air Force and the WR‑ALC the world class organizations they are. Sacrificing their time and applying their skills to such difficult issues are also virtues constantly demonstrated by WR-ALC personnel. Russ Alford, Buddy Craine, and Jim Ware exemplified these virtues. They guaranteed that the C‑141s would continue serving and the cost of the Memphis mishap would be kept to a minimum.
The last topic deals with one of
the Air Force" most hallowed aircraft C‑141B T/N 66‑0177, better
"Hanoi Taxi." On 12 February 1973, this Starlifter
became the first U.S.
aircraft to transport American Prisoners of War (POWs) to freedom from
Gia Lam Airport, Hanoi , Socialist Republic of Viet Nam
(North), during Operation Homecoming. The "Hanoi Taxi" derived its
name from the inscriptions written by the POWs on the flight engineers
panel. Over the years the signatures and declarations of the proud men
flying home to freedom have been lovingly preserved by the crews who have flown
the great old lady. Over the years T/N 66‑0177 has become for all intents
and purposes a "flying museum."
Late in FY01, leaders of the 445th Airlift Wing (445AW), Wright‑Patterson AFB, Ohio, the using unit, knowing that number 66‑0177 would be retired in late 2004, asked their superiors at HQ AFRC for permission to repaint their plane the 1970s gray and white paint scheme during its final programmed depot maintenance (PDM) at WR‑ALC in FY02. Not only did AFRC officials grant permission but the also agreed to fund the repaint. WR-ALC C‑141 SPO workers took great care with the "Hanoi Taxi" during its fourth quarter FY02 PDM. Even as they completed their work for the formal final roll out ceremonies, a special pilot arrived with 66‑0177"s regular crew to fly her home for the last time.
Major General Edward J. Mechenbier was the special pilot. Then serving as Mobilization Assistant to the AFMC Commander, Lester Lyles, Mechenbier was one of those young POWs who came home on the "Hanoi Taxi" from the terrible prison he and his fellow POWs named the "Hanoi Hilton." In June 1967, then Lieutenant Mechenbier, stationed at Da Nang Air Base (AB), Republic of Viet Nam (South), left on his 80th mission over the North as part of Operation Rolling Thunder. When the enemy shot down his F‑4C Phantom fighter aircraft he bailed out and was captured. He spent the next five years and eight months in brutal captivity.
The day of his liberation, Mechenbier recalled that the C‑141, "was the most beautiful thing I had seen in six years!" Nearly 30 years later the command pilot with 3,500 flying hours, had come full circle. On 7 October 2002, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Robins AFB Base Operations building to bid farewell to the "Hanoi Taxi," the Air Force" flying tribute to the Vietnam War" POWs and MIAs. Among those present were the C‑141 SPO employees who performed the PDM, several former POWs, and representatives of Middle Georgia POW/MIA groups as well as the WR-ALC Commander, Major General Donald Wetekam, WR-ALC Vice Commander Brigadier General Larry Stevenson, and WR-ALC Civilian Director Steve Davis.
Those of us who toured the interior of the aircraft were moved by the plaques, documents, and photographs of the 1973 homecoming which had taken their places beside the original POW" names and signatures to form this flying exhibit. In addition, etchings of the names of Vietnam era MIAs were also taken from the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. and mounted in the plane" interior.
In his farewell address Mechenbier told the audience "it" great to be doing something positive, but more importantly this airplane is a symbol of freedom of the spirit. Flying it is a tribute not only to me and the POWs, but to everybody that "brought this together." At 10:18am, General Mechenbier lifted the "Hanoi Taxi" gently off the Robins AFB tarmac circled the field, tipped his wing in salute and headed home to Ohio. Truly as he had said earlier, "flying it out today in this white and gray paint scheme will be a nostalgic trip back for me."
Indeed, it was a moving experience for all those present.
Clearly, this program remained a very important sustainment
project in FY02, especially since C‑141 airframes are over 35‑40
Indeed, most Air Force and DoD officials and aviation experts never expected the
Starlifter to serve past the early 1990s, but the protracted deployment
of the C‑17 Globemaster III aircraft made it necessary to
to fly ever‑increasing numbers of strategic airlift missions using what
William Tunner once called the "work horse.".
Even at the end of FY02, as most of the original 276 C‑141s continued to be retired, the remainder continue to serve in the Air National Guard (ANG) and Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC). Throughout, the WR-ALC C‑141 workforce has remained focused on its sustainment of the C‑141s. Since 1978‑1982, when they and Lockheed employees "stretched" the C‑141A to make the B model to the 1990s when they replaced the WR-ALC wing box, this dedicated group has always gone the extra mile even for an aircraft soon to leave the inventory. They have continually upgraded and modernized the C‑141s.
Their record has been amazing! Now, as they continue to go into unexplored areas of aging aircraft sustainment, this dedication will be tested anew. But, if the TCAS/TAWS, GSPENS and other program prove anything it is that the more things change the more they stay the same. The WR-ALC C‑141 workforce has always fulfilled their mission, and no doubt will in the future.