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USAF transitions C-130H Hercules aircraft in major avionics upgrade

Aircrew test out a C-130H Hercules new digital displays for the first time Aug. 2, 2023, on a flight to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Image credit: US Air Force

The United States Air Force has begun transitioning C-130H Hercules turboprop military transport aircraft from analog to digital equipment in a major upgrade of aircraft avionics systems.

The United States Air Force has begun transitioning C-130H Hercules turboprop military transport aircraft from analog to digital equipment in a major upgrade of aircraft avionics systems.

Under the Avionics Modernization Program (AMP) Increment 2, the Air Force Reserve Command’s C-130H Hercules fleet will transform almost 60-year-old aircraft avionics and navigation systems to meet national defence strategy priorities.

The upgrade includes a new flight management system, autopilot, large glass multifunctional displays, digital engine instruments, digital backbone, and terrain awareness and warning system.

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The United States Air Force (USAF) 417th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) aircrews began AMP Inc 2 developmental testing in August on one aircraft. Over the next five years, more than 23 Air Force Reserve and 54 Air National Guard C-130H aircraft will receive the AMP Inc 2 modification at a cost of US$7 million per aircraft.

“This modification completely changes the interface for the crew to employ the C-130H,” said Major Jacob Duede, 417th FLTS experimental test pilot.

“Aircrew essentially had to print the directions before flying and then type the information in using latitude and longitude or use ground-based navigation aids.

“This new mod is the newest GPS navigation with a by name search function and autopilot, all built into the aircraft.”

The built-in flight plan modification ability resolves a previous issue for pilots. Prior to AMP, to modify the flight plan, pilots coordinated with air traffic control, then looked up new coordinates in latitude and longitude with equipment brought onto the aircraft like a tablet or laptop. Then the pilots took those numbers and entered them into the aircraft to adjust the flight plan.

“Depending on the proficiency of the crew, this could take 30 to 45 seconds or two to three minutes,” Duede said. “Either of which is a long time when in the air moving at four miles per minute.”

Using the new built-in multifunctional displays, the pilot can complete the entire process with a hand controller in less than 30 seconds.

“The new process is as quick as the first step of the old process. You just identify the point on the moving map, grab it, and execute the flight plan,” Duede, the 10-year C-130 pilot, said.

“This is much larger than just a software or hardware upgrade. It’s reconstructing and modernising the aircraft’s entire cockpit area.”

Another new aircraft component includes an upgraded Integrated Terrain Awareness and Warning System (ITAWS). The commercially used ground and object avoidance tool has been significantly upgraded to react to Air Force tactical flying requirements and combined with the latest flight navigational programs.

ITAWS is now built into the aircraft and available on screens easily assessable to the pilot, copilot and navigator; as opposed to current operational C-130H aircraft where aircrews carry tablets or laptops to access navigational software.

All but three of the aircraft’s original analog gauges are gone to make way for the AMP system. In place of those gauges that worked independently of each other are six new brightly lit multifunctional displays working together throughout the aircraft’s flight deck.

The planning phase of the 417th FLTS’s developmental testing, or DT, began in 2021 and continues here through the rest of the year.

During the DT flights, aircrew examine all aspects of these newly installed tools, none of which existed within the aircraft before.

“This is an entirely new system,” said Caleb Reeves, 417th FLTS test engineer who helped design the test plan.

“Everything we’re testing here is being done for the first time ever in this aircraft. We’re also examining if these untried systems perform in the ways we thought they would or not. That data allows us to adjust our testing and provide feedback to the manufacturer.”

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