Urgent Operational Requirement – Project Weatherman/
11th March 2014
Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group’s swift actions and expertise enable storm-damaged RAF C-130Js to return quickly to operational duties with the Forward Fleet.
On 23rd April 2013 a severe hailstorm hit Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, and the five RAF C-130J aircraft based there suffered extensive hailstone damage. An initial inspection found that the hailstones, some the size of golf balls, had damaged a total of 851 panels on the five aircraft. The ailerons were particularly badly affected and would need replacing before the aircraft could fly again. An Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) was raised to return the aircraft to service as soon as possible.
Working closely with both the original airframe manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, and the MoD, Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (Marshall ADG) rose to the challenges of the UOR, establishing a dedicated team to undertake an extreme weather damage recovery project dubbed Operation Weatherman.
Meeting the UOR was a far from simple task. With a lack of spare ‘J’ ailerons and elevators in the RAF’s supply chain, and time constraints ruling out the option of a loan from other operators, like-for-like replacement of the damaged panels proved impossible.
Marshall ADG’s solution was to use surplus C-130K components which, although dimensionally identical to the J components, were not a quick and easy fix. Fitting the K ailerons required re-routing of the trim-tab actuator loom, repositioning of support clips and re-orientation of the control rod attachment. In order to offer the best possible assistance to the RAF’s in-theatre engineers, Marshall ADG conducted extensive installation trials in Cambridge and provided detailed Routine Technical Instruction (RTI).
Marshall ADG’s swift and authoritative actions allowed the damaged ailerons to be replaced onsite in Kandahar, enabling one of the aircraft to remain based there and return to operational duties within just eight weeks of the hailstorm, while the other four aircraft returned to the UK.
Upon the arrival of the four C-130s in Cambridge, Marshall ADG took on the responsibility of project managing the repair of the remaining dented panels, and led work with Lockheed Martin to assess the level of damage by means of extensive non-destructive testing. After this analysis, the company began the rest of the complex repair process. This involved supplying rarely-replaced panels and components, the provision of additional manpower and in-depth technical advice, as well as carrying out the physical repairs.
Throughout the repair process, Marshall ADG also undertook Primary and Primary Star maintenance on three of the four aircraft being repaired onsite, whilst continuing to provide routine support to the remainder of the RAF’s fleet of C-130s under the Hercules Integrated Operation Support (HIOS) programme – a programme renowned for making the C-130 one of the RAF’s most cost-effective transport aircraft.
By mid-September, less than four months after the hailstorm, four of the five aircraft had returned to the Forward Fleet and resumed their flying duties, while the fifth underwent preplanned depth maintenance at Marshall ADG’s facilities in Cambridge.
In recognition of Marshall ADG’s exceptional response to the UOR, the RAF awarded the company a Chief of the Air Staff’s Commendation on 11th October 2013. It praised the Marshall ADG staff who, throughout Operation Weatherman, “displayed tremendous determination to see the project through to a successful conclusion”, as well as the company’s ability to “balance competing priorities through flexible planning and resourcing, willingness to innovate, and strong project management.”
The hailstone damage took all five C-130J aircraft out of service and presented the Marshall ADG Weatherman team with a momentous challenge. The fact that these aircraft were returned to operational service so quickly is testament to the company’s ability to work collaboratively, with both customers and OEMs, to deliver a successful outcome. This achievement marks another chapter in the company’s long and distinguished history of supporting the Royal Air Force.