Three weeks after the Air Force put scores of its C-130 Hercules planes on restricted flying status and grounded others because of structural concerns, it is still unclear whether the restricted planes will be able to fly with the same cargo loads as before.

A total of 60 C-130s were placed on restricted flying status and 30 more were grounded. Six C-130s at Ramstein Air Base, Germany — a third of the base’s fleet of 18 planes — are on restricted status. They can fly, but must carry 10 percent less weight when loaded with fuel and cargo, according to guidelines issued by the C-130 System Program Office at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., which manages the fleet. None of the C-130s at Ramstein is grounded.

The 86th Airlift Wing, which operates the planes at Ramstein, is able to complete its mission despite the restrictions, said Mike Young, a spokesman for the wing. Young could not elaborate on how the restrictions affected the wing, and wing commanders declined repeated requests by Stars and Stripes for interviews.

The restrictions came after the System Program Office found that maintenance crews were reporting stress cracks in center wing boxes that were larger and more widespread than had been predicted, Hays said. The center wing box is where the wings meet the frame.

“We had expected to see the cracks,” said Lt. Col. Mark Hays, deputy director of the C-130 System Program Office. “What we didn’t expect to see was the severity of the cracks.”

Forty-three C-130s with the most flying hours were grounded in September until a larger review was completed, Hays said. Then the Air Force grounded or restricted planes based on a formula of flying time and the flying conditions the planes saw.

Center wing boxes must be replaced on all 30 grounded planes before they can fly again.

For the restricted planes, the Air Force has not decided whether to lift restrictions on the planes if no cracks are found on them, Hays said. The Air Force could require the center wing box on all restricted planes to be replaced to fly at maximum capacity.

Who's affected ...

The Air Force grounded 30 C-130 Hercules cargo planes and put 60 more on restricted flying status Feb. 9. The bases and the number of planes affected are:

Pope Air Force Base, N.C. — 16 grounded, 6 restrictedLittle Rock Air Force Base, Ark. — 13 grounded, 25 restrictedDyess Air Force Base, Texas — 12 restrictedRamstein Air Base, Germany — 6 restrictedYokota Air Base, Japan — 3 restrictedKirtland Air Force Base, N.M. — 3 restrictedAir National Guard — 1 grounded, 4 restrictedAir Force Reserve Command — 1 restrictedSource: Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

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