Tag Archives: hercules

This small, 3D-printed part could slash C-130 fuel bills

Anyone who’s owned a car will know that a trip to the petrol station is one of the biggest expenses you have to cope with. Well, imagine that instead of one car you have hundreds of cars that need to be fuelled all the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Now, replace those cars with fully-loaded C-130 Hercules transport aircraft that have to fly missions across the world.

That’s what the US military has to deal with day in, day out – and not surprisingly their annual fuel bill for its entire C-130 fleet contains lots of zeros! So any modification that can reduce that eye-watering bill, no matter how small a percentage, is still taken very seriously indeed. Even a 1% efficiency could save millions of dollars.

Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the C-130, has come up with several ingenious airframe modifications that it says could save operators around 3% in fuel costs. The modifications (in a very non-scientific nutshell) smooth out some of the airflow over the fuselage and wings, ultimately reducing drag.

C-130 with microvanes

Microvanes fitted to the aft fuselage of a C-130 Photo: Lockheed Martin

One of the company’s solutions is to glue on small 3D-printed fibreglass strips to the back of the aircraft to optimise airflow and reduce drag created by the flat rear cargo door (apparently this flat cargo door contributes to over 10% of the aircraft’s total drag).

Microvanes, as the low-cost strips are known, have been in the works for several years and, as Quill recently learned, have been fitted to a US Coast Guard HC-130 for trials. You can read more about the trials here as part of a Shephard interview with Lockheed Martin.

Another modification that might be better known in the avgeek community is winglets, which are now commonplace in the ‘economically conscious’ commercial sector, but not so much in the military world. That could soon change, however, as Lockheed looks to develop and test a new winglet design for the C-130.

Quill found out from Lockheed Martin themselves that winglet flight tests have just been completed, marking the first time ever that a C-130 has been fitted with winglets. The aircraft was an AFSOC MC-130, but unfortunately no official photographs have yet been released. More details of that flight testing can also be found in the Shephard article linked above.

It might still be a few years before we see production C-130s being fitted with microvanes and winglets, and the fuel saving predictions still have to be verified, which the recent flight testing will help towards. However, it all looks very promising, and if it saves just a few percent in fuel costs at a relatively low installation cost, then surely it is worth pursuing.

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Making sense of military acronyms

M88A2 HERCULESThe other day one of my colleagues tweeted about the following, which he described as an ‘absolutely obscene backronym’. It was MAGIC CARPET, which obviously stands for Maritime Augmented Guidance with Integrated Controls for Carrier Approach and Recovery Precision Enabling Technologies. Well, of course, what else could it stand for?

Anyway, it got me to thinking about acronyms in the defence sphere. There are hundreds of them, and even after a decade writing about it, there are still times in interviews when I have to stop the SME (subject matter expert, not small & medium enterprise, stupid!) and ask for clarification on some obscure acronym they used.

Another backronym is the pictured M88A2 HERCULES, which stands for Heavy Equipment Recovery Combat Utility Lifting Extraction System. Another long-winded one is the US Air Force’s Rapid Engineers Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer (RED HORSE). One has to wonder who thinks these things up!

Most acronyms we are okay with. The last decade and a half has reinforced in the public consciousness such things as improvised explosive devices (IED), to be which can be added vehicle-borne (VBIED) and person-borne (PBIED) versions. Most would also recognise the US-coined OEF and OIF too.

Grammatically, however, acronyms can be fraught, and defence journals can be as guilty as everyone else. For example, there is no reason to call the above Improvised Explosive Devices. Capitalisation is quite unnecessary, because we are not referring to proper names. The same applies to UAVs, for they are unmanned aerial vehicles.

Some companies don’t help things at all. Continental European companies in particular, for example Atlas Elektronik or Kongsberg just to take two names out of the hat, like to capitalise their names at every possible opportunity. This is unashamed self-promotion, because these are not acronyms at all. Some companies like to do the same with their products too. Note it is Exocet, not EXOCET.

But if you’re GDLS or MBDA, then you can get away with it. MAN or ZF are not guilty either, because these are indeed acronyms. In fact, these two latter names are so firmly entrenched that most of us would be hard-pressed to identify their original/full names as Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg or Zahnradfabrik respectively (the latter = literally Gear Factory, incidentally).

Then there are those company names that started off as acronyms – FIAT and SAAB, for example – that no longer require capitalisation.

As journalists we excitedly write about SLEPs, MLUs, ASW or ASuW weaponry, and want to learn about MBTs, SPHs, IFVs and APCs. In some cases it becomes difficult to keep up – we have, for instance, FCS, GCV and now FFV as the US Army’s search for a new armoured vehicle seems set to continue until it runs out of suitable acronyms.

In preparing this article I resolved one question I always held. Was it OTO Melara or Oto Melara? In fact, it is the former as OTO is an acronym for Odero-Terni-Orlando.

Know of any other interesting acronym stories?