Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

TOP STORY>> C-130Js set for intense testing

IN SHORT>> New transport planes will take part in a combat exercise in Fort Polk, La.

By SARA GREENE
Leader staff writer

Evaluators from Little Rock Air Force Base will see how well the Air Force’s C-130J can perform in combat during a week-long Joint Readi-ness Training Center exercise in Fort Polk, La.

Four C-130Js at Little Rock Air Force Base leave Saturday to participate in the exercise’s combat-mission airdrops and formations.

“The C-130J is just a small part of the exercise,” said Maj. Dave Flynn of the 48th Air Squadron.

During the exercise, the planes will be flying three missions per day in combat mode.

“Pilots will have on flack jackets (bulletproof vests) and night-vision goggles during an aggressive week of flying,” Flynn said.
The exercise is part of the second phase of evaluations of the plane.

Over the past three weeks, evaluation teams have been studying how the plane responds flying out of a large base with ample maintenance support. The evaluation teams are comprised of members of the 48th Air Squadron and Air Force Oper-ation Test and Evaluation Center from Edwards Air Force Base in California.

“Compared to the older models of the C-130, the J has more power, it’s faster and can stop on shorter runways because of the powerful reverse thrust of the engines,” said Flynn, who serves as the mission commander for the evaluations.
“The avionics (computers) inside are great,” Flynn said.

Much new equipment includes the heads-up display.

The clear plastic panel that folds down has a radar and summary of system operations in a digital display for the pilots. The J model also replaces several gauges with small, color-computer screens.

“The older models needed a five-person flight crew; thanks to the new technology, we only need three on the J,” Flynn said.
Another feature of the new plane includes a stainless-steel microwave in the cockpit.

“With a full load of fuel, we can stay in the air for 13 hours so it’s good to have,” Flynn said.

The plane also has an air-conditioned cargo area which makes it suitable for paratroopers in desert warfare.

Flynn says training flights at 300 feet into the Ozark Mountains have proved how well the plane handles.

“I find the J to be very responsive and maneuverable, especially at low levels,” said Flynn, who has been flying C-130s since 1998.

Maintenance crews are also finding a lot to like about the C-130J.

“With the older models, we had to depend on the pilot providing diagnostic information like ‘there’s low power in engine two’ but now we have a computer that tells us ‘there’s low power in engine two,’” said Master Sgt. Ed Guilliams, of the 314th Air Maintenance Squadron.

During the first phase of the evaluation, conducted in 1999-2000, examiners looked at the plane’s ability to perform basic tasks, such take-offs and landings. The final phase of the C-130J evaluation includes a December deployment to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, for cold-weather testing.

Following the final evaluation, the plane should be approved for widespread use. Two C-130Js are currently being used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The C-130J has also gone into action as one of the newest hurricane hunters, which tracks storms for the National Weather Service.

The plane has been busy flying into hurricanes Katrina and Wilma and other storms. Their mission this season began June 8 with Tropical Storm Arlene. Crews have clocked nearly 1,200 hours flying during 124 missions this season.

The WC-130 J, which replaced a 30-year-old C-130, is assigned to an Air Reserve unit at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane hunters fly in and out of storms and report to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The C-130J is also winning praise from the commander of the Air National Guard, who last week said the plane has performed well in Iraq.

Col. Lawrence Gallogly, commander of the 143rd Airlift Wing at Quonset Air National Guard Base in Rhode Island, said the C-130Js have a 93.9 percent mission-capability rate — that is, the percentage of time a plane is ready to fly. The older C-130E and H models have a far lower rate of mobility, dropping to as low as 50 percent in some cases — that is, they’re in the air only about half the time.

The other problem with the older planes is cracks in their center wing box, which holds the wing to the fuselage. The Air Force has grounded dozens of old planes, including 15 grounded at Little Rock Air Force Base. Commanders say the C-130Js are needed to replace the old planes, which cannot be patched up indefinitely.

Robins Air Force Base in Georgia is repairing many of the E and H models, which have up to 45,000 flight hours.

Planes with 38,000 flight hours have been restricted and must undergo inspections and repairs at Robins. There are 17 restricted planes at Little Rock Air Force Base according to 1st. Lt. Jon Quinlan, who said some may go the graveyard while others may be repaired.

Garrick Feldman contributed to this article.