ANG Test Flights Propel Polar Airlift Potential

August 10, 2009
An LC-130 equipped with special 8-blade NP2000 propellers visits Summit Station, Greenland. Test flights such as this one suggest the 8-blade propellers will allow these cargo planes to take off on skis with much heavier cargo loads than do the standard 4-blade propellers. Photo: Mark Doll, USAF

An LC-130 equipped with special 8-blade NP2000 propellers visits Summit Station, Greenland, late in July. Test flights suggest the propellers will allow these cargo planes to take off on skis with much heavier cargo loads than do the standard 4-blade propellers. Photo: Mark Doll, USAF

We heard from Mark Doll today after he’d had a chance to catch up from “a great week in Greenland.”  That week, a flight period for the New York Air National Guard 109th Airlift Wing, included test flights of an eight-blade propeller system mounted on the LC-130 cargo planes, which provide the heavy airlift to the National Science Foundation’s polar research program.  

How did it go?

“In short, the NP2000-equipped LC-130 works great,” wrote Lt Col Doll (the Air Guard’s liaison to the National Science Foundation’s polar program).

“During the week of 27-31 July, the 109th continued test flights with the 8-blade NP2000 propeller. The program consisted of two trips to Summit and one to Raven Camp. At each place, we conducted a series of take-offs at various weights both on the skiways and in the open snow. While we are still reducing the data, we can say that we set an unofficial take-off record at Summit: 143,000 lbs, -11 deg C – with an 18kt tailwind! Granted the snow was quite good, and the skiway in great shape, but no one expected a successful take-off under those conditions. The whole crew was surprised. We even took off from Summit open snow at 113,000 lbs; under normal conditions, that would have been impossible even with JATO.

Ed Stockard shot this photo of Skier 92 coming in for a landing at Raven Camp. That building at rear was part of the Distant Early Warning array established across the arctic during the cold war.

Ed Stockard shot this photo of Skier 92 at Raven Camp. Dye 2, rear, was part of the Distant Early Warning System radar sites established across the Arctic during the cold war, and it is located about 1 mile from Raven.

“The NP2000 propeller offers reduced vibration, noise and maintenance costs, while increasing thrust. The absolute amount of increased thrust is still being determined. However, in our subjective opinion, it offers much better performance for ski take-offs. Our intent is to eventually equip all LC-130s with the NP2000 to increase our cargo-carrying capability while reducing the use of JATO.”

The planes, traditionally outfitted with four-blade propellers, have skis to land on snow and ice. And while these are absolutely essential at the poles where few paved runways exist, the LC-130s pay a high price in terms of efficiency: drag makes the “Ski Birds” ungainly on takeoff (and can lead to ski ways that are several miles long!) and it also reduces air speed.

A NP2000-equipped LC-130 flies over bergy waters. Photo: Mark Doll

An NP2000-equipped LC-130 flies over bergy waters. Photo: Mark Doll

The test flights cap about 10 years of research and development for Doll and colleagues, he says.  Back in 1999, “I started asking questions about the thrust of the existing propeller so I could start to define the ski drag,” Doll recalls. ”I quickly was referred to Hamilton Standard (Hamilton Sundstrand) for some answers. That started the relationship that led to the NP2000 discussions. At the time, the propeller was being designed for the Navy’s E-2 Hawkeye; the C-130 was only a dream.

“It has been a long road to get this far; and we’re still a long way from success. Even after we prove the viability and capability of the NP2000, we still have to procure the funds for installation. Last week in Greenland was a success and brought us one step closer to an answer, no matter what the answer is.”

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Fly the Friendly Skies

July 30, 2009
Legendary 109th pilot Jim Grupp (Ret) at Alert Bay, Canada, March 2006. Photo: Ed Stockard

Legendary 109th pilot Jim Grupp (Ret) at Alert Bay, Canada, March 2006. Photo: Ed Stockard

We got to thinking about our colleagues in the New York Air National Guard 109th Airlift Wing the other day.  We heard about the delight with which two Greenlandic high school students, participating in an education program en route to Summit Station, experienced take-off and landing in the plane’s cockpit, having been invited up by the pilot for a rare view of their ice-topped homeland.

The 109th is a special unit. Their primary mission is to provide airlift to the US National Science Foundation’s research programs at both poles:  they move civilians (scientists and those who manage or support the research program) and their gear to and from and all over the ice in Greenland and Antarctica.

Through the 109th, civilians experience a fly culture unlike a typical commercial airline. For one thing, the “seats” are made of red netting hooked to the inside walls of the plane. No first class here–everyone sits in cargo class.

For one thing, all the seats are middle seats—and they’re made of red netting. No nonsense. Have a seat.

All the seats are middle seats. Have a seat. Photo: Henning Thing

The ANG doesn’t serve snacks, and forget the drink cart. But sometimes, en route to Greenland from their base in Scotia, New York, they will take you out for ice cream: the airport staff at Canadian Forces Base at Goose Bay, Newfoundland (the refueling stop), give free ice cream bars to all comers. And while there’s no in-flight movie, the view out the windows can be spectacular, especially if a reconnaissance means the crew goes in low.

There's no in-flight movie, but the view out the porthole windows can be stunning. Photo: Ed Stockard

Approaching east Greenland. Photo: Ed Stockard

You can drape yourself over the cargo pallets (as is the fellow, left center, below) or stand in the aisles. As long as the air is smooth and the loadmaster doesn’t mind.

If they lose your luggage, you’re likely to know it since cargo flies in the belly of the plane with the people.  (But the 109th doesn’t lose your luggage.) Photo: Henning Thing

If they lose your luggage, you’re likely to know it before you land since cargo flies in the belly of the plane with the people. But the 109th doesn’t lose your luggage. Photo: Henning Thing

Like flight attendants on commercial airlines, loadmasters are in charge of what happens behind the cockpit. But they won’t bring you an eye mask or fluff your pillow; they’re busy with other matters:

It was a beautiful day for the loadmaster--really, for all involved--to see this D-8 snugged into the hold, ready to fly to a deep field camp. Photo: Ed Stockard

A loadmaster's dream. This D-6 snuggles in the hold, ready to fly to a deep field camp. Photo: Ed Stockard

Sometimes the 109th drops something–but only on purpose:

. . . on purpose of course. Here, the 109th delivers via air drop. Photo: Ed Stockard

Here, a crew practices air drop procedures at Raven Camp, their Greenland training facility. Photo: Ed Stockard

And then there are the skis, required for snow and ice field landings. When fully retracted, the skis sit up close to the body of the plane. When deployed, they fit down over the wheels, almost like enormous spats.  And those spats make the “ski-birds” workhorses at the poles, where there are few paved runways available.

You land in Kangerlussuaq on wheels, but on the ice, you land on skis and glide to a stop. Photo: Henning Thing

Coming in for a landing. . .

. . . and touchdown!

. . . and touchdown! Photos: Henning Thing

The Guard doesn’t put up much of a curtain between the air operations and the passengers; there’s no Wizard of Oz here, so you never forget that what you’re doing is flying in a big metal bird. But somehow, that’s comforting.  Friendly skis.  Friendly skies.

Congratulations to Lt Col Mark Doll and the entire 109th Airlift Wing on the successful testing of an LC-130 fitted with eight-bladed propellers earlier this week at Summit Station! More on those developments in a future post.