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NAVAIR/FRCSE test new aircraft tow tractor at NAS Jacksonville

4th March 2011 - 09:00 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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When the first P-8A Poseidon Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft arrives in 2013 to start replacing the P-3C Orion Antisubmarine Patrol Aircraft, the Fleet will have a larger tow tractor to move the modified Boeing 737 airframe around the flight line.

Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Program Manager Air 260 is prototyping a tow tractor to replace its aging predecessor with the help of Fleet Readiness Center Southeast, Flight Operations and the patrol squadrons at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Fla.

FRCSE Ground Support Equipment (GSE) 900 Division is qualifying drivers on operating the A/S32A-48 Large Land-Based Tow Tractor (LLTT), a lower profile version of the A/S32A-37 Tow Tractor or "buddha," currently used to move large Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force aircraft weighing between 80,000 and 350,000 pounds.

Aviation Support Equipment Technician Senior Chief Antoinette Roberson, the 900 Division leading petty officer, said FRCSE is not providing maintenance or repair support for the two LLTT pilot-production units during the testing phase. However, the division is providing NAVAIR with feedback from FRCSE and squadron operators "on performance characteristics."

Aviation Support Equipment Technician 2nd Class Carlos Baugh, a prototype instructor, said the new tractor "has four-wheel steering and can tow up to 350,000 pounds." Unlike the older model, the prototype's engine mounts in the rear. In addition, the new tractor is air-conditioned, a must have while operating on the flight line in the Florida heat.

Aviation Support Equipment Technician Chief Cleo Bowie, the leading chief petty officer in FRCSE Production Control with 23 years of maintenance experience said he appreciates the prototype's design.

"I like the way it is built, how the fuel lines and the transmission are laid out," said Bowie. "There are multiple panels for easy access to facilitate maintenance and repairs."

Naval Air Technical Data & Engineering Service Command (NATEC) GSE Technical Coordinator Dan Triplett said the "TA-37 tow tractors are quite old and have been around for a long time." He said it is getting more difficult to find replacement parts.

"Through age and attrition, we are replacing the older models," he said.

Triplett said the pilot-production unit is already in use overseas and in Canada. TLD AMERICA headquartered in Windsor, Conn. holds the contract to produce the LLTT slated for production in Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada.

"As far as testing and looking for Fleet inputs, the contract will allow operators to use a temporary license to tow the larger aircraft," said Triplett. "The prototype will be used to tow the P-3, the C-130 and C-40 (military transport aircraft), and the P-8 at NAS Jacksonville."

Working closely with NAVAIR PMA 260 during the pre-production phase, Adam Hall with the NAVAIR Platform Support Equipment Technical Evaluation Branch is the test and evaluation engineer assigned to assess the effectiveness of the LLTT, good or bad.

"We are in the evaluation process," said Adams, "and so far we seem to be getting favorable responses. Testing is going to continue anywhere from three to six months depending on the feedback."

When deployed to the Fleet in late 2012, the LLTT will be capable of towing large patrol aircraft, including the P-8A Poseidon that weighs 188,200 pounds, about 49,000 pounds heavier than the P-3C Orion, according to the online Navy Fact Files.

The Poseidon wingspan is 117.2 feet, more than 17 feet wider than the Orion's. Although larger, the Poseidon requires only nine crewmembers as opposed to 11 required to operate the P-3.

The most noticeable difference is with the engines. Two high-bypass CFM56 turbofan engines power the P-8 allowing the aircraft to travel about 80 knots faster than the P-3 powered by four Allison T-56-A-14 turboprop engines.

Source: NAVAIR

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