Two Older C-130Hs Returned to Service as Air Force Inspects Propellers for Cracks

ASAB Midnight Marauders visit AC-130s and MC-130s

A group of airmen tour an MC-130 Combat Talon II, assigned to Hurlburt Field, Florida, during a Midnight Marauders immersion at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, March 14, 2020. The Midnight Marauder program has visited multiple units in an effort for airmen to see different aspects of the overall mission of ASAB. US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kevin Tanenbaum.

US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kevin Tanenbaum.

Two older C-130s are back flying after the Air Force grounded over 100 of the aircraft in September.

Air Force officials discovered early last month that metal propellers used by most C-130Hs — an older version of the Air Force’s workhorse tactical airlifter — were vulnerable to developing cracks. The metal blades, known as 54H60 propellers, are used on most of the older C-130Hs, which make up about one-quarter of the Air Force’s C-130 fleet. The service’s more common and modern C-130Js use carbon-fiber propellers and are not affected.

The grounded aircraft are mostly C-130H cargo planes, but they include several with specialized roles: eight MC-130H Combat Talon special operations aircraft, seven EC-130H Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft, and one TC-130H trainer.

Maj. Beau Downey, a spokesperson with Air Mobility Command, said the Air Force has “sufficient airlift to meet our global requirements” as the C-130Hs are inspected.

Hurlburt Field retires AC-130 gunship

An AC-130U Spooky gunship tail No. A0253 retires at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Sept. 11, 2018. Spooky A0253 was retired to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, known as the aircraft boneyard, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, after 23 years of service. US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Spain.

US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Spain.

“Two aircraft have been returned to service,” said Downey. “We are looking at multiple avenues for accelerating the fixes, but anticipate the process to safely inspect, and if necessary replace, the affected propellers will take some time.”

The cracks in the propellers were noted by a technician during an inspection in September.

Propeller failure is a catastrophic danger for prop-driven aircraft like the C-130, particularly for those with metal blades like the 54H60. A Marine Corps KC-130T, flying as Yanky 72, disintegrated midflight at 20,000 feet over Mississippi in 2017 when a cracked metal blade came off during flight. The KC-130T is the Marine version of a C-130H, modified as a tanker. The blade sliced through the aircraft, shattering it into three large pieces and killing all 16 on board.

The Navy and Marines grounded their fleets of C-130s for more than a year following the accident until all props had been checked.

Newer C-130Js fly with propellers that have six and sometimes eight carbon-fiber blades, which in a mishap will shatter into mostly harmless pieces. The carbon-fiber blades allowed a Marine KC-130, flying as Raider 50, to survive a prop failure in 2020 over California that was similar to the fatal 2017 mishap.

In that flight, a midair collision with an F-35 sheared off nearly all the blades on both engines on the right side of a Marine KC-130J. As the carbon-fiber blades shattered into innumerable tiny pieces, those that hit the fuselage mostly bounced off or penetrated with just bullet-hole-sized damage, too small to imperil the whole plane, which landed safely.

Read Next: Under New THC Rules, Air Force Recruits Can Still ‘Aim High’ Even If They’ve Been High

Matt White is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a Pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism. He also teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Jenna Biter has written for regional magazines and digital outlets including on great power competition and special operations medical teams for The National Interest. She is pursuing a master’s degree in national security and is working on speaking Russian. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the US military? Email Jenna.
More from Coffee or Die Magazine
With the US and India deepening their military ties, the Himalayan mountain chain marks another geopolitical flashpoint with China.
With its iconic folding wings and six machine guns, the Corsair proved exceptionally lethal in World War II and beyond.
Letter bombs mailed to the US Embassy in Madrid and Spanish government offices triggered elevated security at Naval Station Rota.
The Air Force will officially reveal the replacement for the B-2 stealth bomber on Friday, Dec. 2.
When he was released, after 28 months as a prisoner, he thought he would face charges. Instead, he was told he’d won the highest award for valor.
A Connecticut man faces up to 20 years behind bars for trying to join Islamic State group terrorists.
The annual matchup was first played in 1890 and has since become something much bigger — and more important — than just a football game.
A blaze erupted on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, injuring nine sailors before it was extinguished.