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Airman 1st Class Nathan Wik, left, and Staff Sgt. Aaron Rodante inspect a T-56 jet engine at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
Airman 1st Class Nathan Wik, left, and Staff Sgt. Aaron Rodante inspect a T-56 jet engine at Yokota Air Base, Japan. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — If a C-130 engine or propeller breaks in the Pacific theater, it usually ends up at this base west of Tokyo.

The 44 propulsion technicians at Pacific Air Force’s T56 engine regional repair center keep the Air Force’s workhorse in the air.

Last year, the flight fixed 74 engines and 75 propellers from Pacific C-130 cargo birds.

“Any time an aircraft engine breaks, it will be sent to this shop if the flightline personnel can’t fix it,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Woodward, the propulsion flight chief.

The C-130 is multipurpose, operating in both peace and war, hauling cargo, troops and equipment, the wounded and sick; it can be a tanker or a gunship. It flies a lot, and about every 3,500 hours, its engines need mending from wear and tear.

Three engine crews of four to five airmen at Yokota take turns dismantling and assembling the 4,300 horsepower turboprops, ironing out the kinks and sometimes replacing parts.

Before an engine is returned to its aircraft or stocked as a spare, airmen haul it across base to a test cell “to ensure everything works as advertised,” Woodward said.

Yokota’s T56 repair center is the only military shop that performs “three-level” maintenance on C-130 engines for the Air Force. Three-level maintenance involves repairs on the flightline, in-shop, and at depot, where engines can be completely overhauled and parts replaced.

“We’re as close as we can get to a depot without being a depot,” Woodward said. “We can perform limited depot repairs.”

The other service centers are at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., where contractors do the work, and at a private corporation in San Antonio.

The shop provides at-cost repairs, or about $262,000 per engine, whereas the two U.S. depots charge a flat rate of $521,000 per engine repair, Woodward said.

It can take 10 to 12 days to transport an engine from Yokota back to the States, “when we can drive it from the flightline to here, and it takes 10 minutes,” he said. The Air Force standard to repair a T56 is 26 days, while Yokota’s is 18, Woodward said.

“If it needs to be turned around quickly, we can replace it within two to three days max,” said 2nd Lt. David Runels, the flight commander.

With 40 C-130 aircraft from Kadena, Yokota and Elmendorf air bases to service, job security is never an issue, Woodward said. “Based on the age of the aircraft and the age of the engines, we do have quite a bit of constant work,” he said. The first C-130 was deployed in 1955, but “the average plane on the flightline is a ’63 model,” Woodward said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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