The Navy required a Navy Unique Fleet Essential Airlift Replacement Aircraft (the NUFEA-RA Program). This aircraft, since designated the C-40A, was required to replace the aging C-9 fleet. Boeing offered the 737-700 new technology aircraft in response to the Navy's request for proposal. The Navy did not request and Boeing did not specify any particular equipment to be designated by manufacturer and model number except the basic aircraft itself. Instead, general capabilities and performance requirements were specified.
The C-40A, a derivative of the 737-700C and manufactured by Boeing Information, Space, and Defense Systems, is a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified, high performance, fixed wing aircraft that will accommodate 120 passengers, eight pallets of cargo, or a combination configuration consisting of 3 pallets and 70 passengers. It is powered by two CFM56-7 engines developed jointly by General Electric and SNECMA. The Clipper is a version of Boeing's next-generation 737-700, the 737-700C, modified with a large cargo door and the strengthened wings and landing gear of the 737-800. The C-40A will have a state of the art flight deck, avionics that meet FAA safety mandates, and engines that are Stage III noise compliant and certified for over-water operations. The aircraft will have a range of 3,400 NM with 5,000 lbs. of cargo. The aircraft will provide long range, high priority logistical airlift in support of Fleet activities.
Congress approved funding for the first four aircraft in 1997. A contract for two C-40As was signed in August 1997, with an option for a third. Delivery of the first aircraft is scheduled for December 2000. On July 30, 1999, Boeing Defense and Space Group was awarded a $43,700,000 modification to the previously awarded contract for the procurement of one C-40A aircraft, to be delivered by August 2001. Five aircraft have been ordered; a sixth aircraft was funded in the FY 2001 budget.
As of mid-2000 the Naval Reserve had seven squadrons that operate its 27 C-9 and DC-9 aircraft, and the Marine Corps operated two C-9s of its own. The oldest of these aircraft are 12 DC-9s that were purchased secondhand from various airlines in the early 1980s and then converted to fit the Navy's needs. A large cargo door was added to each aircraft, which made it possible to convert from a passenger to a cargo configuration easily or to have a mix of both. Fifteen C-9s were built for the Navy in the 1970s, the last of them purchased during the early 1980s just as McDonnell Douglas was shutting down its production line. In the early mid-1990s, when the oldest C-9 was approaching 30 years of service life, the Navy started to look for a replacement.
Upgrading the aging Skytrain II airframe with new engines and avionics was considered, but that would leave new equipment in a 30-year-old airframe. The Navy also wanted to increase the range of its logistics aircraft to make nonstop flights from such places as Hawaii to Japan and back to the United States, as base closures had eliminated previously available refueling stops. In addition, tougher noise controls being instituted in many locations in Europe and the United States further limited the usefulness of the C-9. A new aircraft was needed to take Navy air logistics forward.
The 737-700 design was chosen based on the success of the 737's reliable airframe in service since 1967. In addition, decision makers provided wording in the law that would eventually allow the Navy to sell some of its DC-9s to commercial carriers to help offset the costs. To help the Navy keep the C-9s up to snuff during the transition, many of them are receiving upgraded cockpits and avionics that will make them safer and more viable until they are replaced.
The C-40A is able to carry 121 passengers or 40,000 pounds of cargo, compared with 90 passengers or 30,000 pounds for the C-9. In addition, the maximum range for the Clipper is approximately 1,500 miles more than the C-9. The redesigned wings of the C-40A are stronger and have an advanced-technology airfoil that provides greater efficiency in flight. Under the wings, its General Electric CFM-56 engines are very fuel efficient and quiet.
Even after many upgrades, C-9s still have an analog cockpit, but the Clipper has a fully digital "glass" cockpit that will allow for future growth. The cockpit is also fitted with a heads-up display, allowing pilots to keep their eyes up and outside in low-visibility approaches. One major improvement is the C-40A's navigation system based on satellite global positioning, which will aid in approaches to airports in Third World countries with older, less reliable ground systems.
The cargo area in the C-40A will be available in three variations: all passenger with a capacity of 121, all cargo with a carrying capability of eight pallets totaling 40,000 pounds, and a combination rig that will allow for 70 passengers and three pallets. In this mode, the cargo compartment is sealed to protect passengers and crews from the potential danger of hazardous cargo.
The 737-700 is assembled from 375,000 parts, which could be a nightmare for the Navy's supply system if required to purchase and order spares for the fleet. But the Navy will be able to partner with private industry-airline and cargo carriers-to purchase parts under a Contract Logistics Supply system. A pool of parts will be created that all partners can access quickly, and this will lower costs because we won't have to stock millions of dollars of parts. But this is for parts only, it is not contract maintenance. We'll still have our Navy personnel maintaining these aircraft.
The first Clipper has been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, much like civilian cargo and passenger aircraft. Because this is a commercial-off-the-shelf aircraft, and because the value for potential resale is higher, it made sense to accept FAA certification.
The first C-40A was delivered in April 2001 to Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VR) 59, NAS JRB Fort Worth, Texas. Delivery of the first four aircraft to VR-59 was planned for completion by August 2001. The squadron ceased operating C-9s on 1 October and began transition training. Although limited operations will begin shortly after delivery of the first aircraft, VR-59 will not be fully operational until April 2002. The fifth aircraft, scheduled for completion in June 2002, will go to VR-58, NAS Jacksonville, Fla., along with one of VR-59's Clippers. VRs 59 and 58 will operate three and two aircraft, respectively, until more are procured. Eventually, each squadron will have four C-40As. At that time, a third site will be selected to receive Clippers.
Although the Naval Reserve believes that a one-for-one replacement of the C-9 is the best way to continue to accomplish the Navy's medium- and heavy-lift mission, plans have not been finalized. A study is underway to determine future needs, and aircraft buys will be based on those results.
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