Deployed prop repair airmen close up shop

Airman 1st Class Michelle Bonnin from Vidor

SOUTHWEST ASIA – There’s an old saying that “all good things must come to an end.” As the climate shifts in the U.S. Air Force’s Central Command area of responsibility, some missions become less essential and are able to return to home station and provide support from abroad. Among them is the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron propeller centralized repair facility here that is closing up shop after providing crucial support to aerial operations throughout the AOR since 2006.

“We repaired all the propellers for C-130 Hercules aircraft throughout the AOR, servicing the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and five other forward operating locations,” said Master Sgt. Larry Frady, the 379th EMXS propeller CRF flight chief deployed from Yokota Air Base, Japan, and a Harrisburg, N.C., native.

This year, the “prop shop” has repaired or refurbished 123 propellers saving the Air Force nearly $20 million in repair costs and thousands in shipping costs.

Until recently, broken C-130 Hercules propellers were sent to the CRF where they’d break them down, determine what caused the issue and rebuild them, explained Staff Sgt. Abigail Annicella, a 379th EMXS propeller CRF aerospace propulsion craftsman deployed from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., and a La Grange Park, Ill, native.

“When the props came into the shop we’d do an acceptance inspection,” Annicella said. “Once we did that, it would go into a tear down phase, removing all the parts from the prop for a more in depth inspection.”

After replacing any defective parts and resolving any discrepancies they found, they’d rebuild the prop and put it on a post tester, ensuring it was back in working condition, she explained. If all went well, they’d take it to the aircraft and run it with the engine before a final inspection.

Hercules were built to perform tactical missions in less than desirable conditions, operating from rough dirt strips and primarily used to airdrop troops and equipment in and out of hazardous areas, so natural wear and tear is expected.

“If we weren’t here to fix them, the aircraft would be at a work stoppage waiting on props to get here,” Annicella said. “So we were here to support them throughout the entire AOR.”

As vital to the fight as the shop has been, the necessity for the propeller CRF has shifted for a number of reasons, Frady explained.

“It’s a combination of factors, including the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Frady said. “There are also less C-130H models in the field.”

The C-130J model entered the Air Force’s inventory in 1999, and is the latest addition to the C-130 fleet with improved technological features and cargo handling systems. Since the current CRF specializes in repairing C-130H model props, they are in the final stages of breaking down the shop and preparing to redeploy. Any repairs needed for C-130J props will be contracted out and shipped to a depot for resolution.

“Right now we are in turn-in mode; turning in equipment and cleaning up the shop.” Annicella said.

All spare hardware must be accounted for and, if serviceable, returned to base supply, she said. Any extra equipment specific to the airframe is packaged, tagged and recorded into a system for other bases with C-130Hs to claim as needed for their operations.

“We had a good group this rotation,” Frady said. “Sixteen people from four different bases who all came together as an outstanding team.”

Though the prop will no longer be here to support the few C-130Hs operating in the AOR, they will continue to provide support stateside as necessary.