Descending onto the runway, the orange and white HC-130H was a flight of vivid color against the fading autumn landscape of Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
For the crew navigating the arrival of the U.S. Coast Guard aircraft from Elizabeth City, N.C., on Dec. 7, beauty wasn't just skin deep. Coast Guard aircraft 1504 (CG1504), featured a refreshed interior avionics cockpit display, recently updated with new hardware and software, thanks to two teams from the Naval Air Systems Command's (NAVAIR) Program Management organization, known as AIR-1.0.
Since 2008, a team composed of the Coast Guard, NAVAIR's Air Combat Electronics Office (PMA-209), the NAVAIR/U.S. Coast Guard Coordination Office and defense industry officials have worked together to modernize the aircraft cockpit. Called an Avionics 1 Upgrade, or A1U, the modifications included changes to the Communication, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) systems as well as a new Automatic Flight Control System.
The arrival of the airplane starts a nine-month ground and flight-test program scheduled to be performed here at Pax in coordination with the Navy Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20.
The A1U will help the Coast Guard meet its goal to have the legacy aircraft flying until 2027 as well as support other Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) objectives, said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Randy Meador, HC-130H deputy project manager. “The Coast Guard needed to update its legacy HC-130H aircraft, which are about 20 to 25 years old, with new state-of-the-art avionics and air traffic management systems.”
Additionally, A1U improves HC-130H aircrew situational awareness, increases flight safety, addresses obsolescence issues and concerns and increases overall mission effectiveness, Meador said. “These upgrades will provide better integration and data exchange with the common operational picture, helping the USCG and DHS achieve maritime domain awareness.”
The Coast Guard is a component of DHS. Eleven operational and one nonoperational prototype HC-130H aircraft are scheduled for the upgrades.
Beyond maritime authority, the upgrades will allow the Coast Guard to safely fly the HC-130H for the next 10 to 15 years, said PMA-209 Program Manager, Capt. Tracy Barkhimer. “It will allow the Coast Guard to fly the airplane into areas with the most stringent air traffic management requirements, thereby increasing the reach and support of the Coast Guard.”
The upgrades include a one-of-a-kind instrument panel with six multifunctional displays, explained Coast Guard Cmdr. Douglas Williams, the Long Range Surveillance Emerging Technology Requirements Officer for the service's Office of Aviation Forces base in Clearwater, Fla.
“The Rockwell-Collins displays, in addition to the previously installed engine instrument display system, are the cornerstone of the avionics upgrade,” Williams said, adding that the new digital displays incorporate all the information of the legacy analog instruments, from altimeters to artificial horizons, to weather radar and more.
For Navy Capt. Tom Popp, the NAVAIR/Coast Guard liaison officer, the planes' landing at Pax marks the start of the newest phase of the program.
“It is rewarding to see the aircraft now fully modified and undergoing rigorous testing at Pax River,” Popp said. “This is the result of hard work and cooperation by the Coast Guard's aviation acquisition team, NAVAIR and industry.”