Pilots Give New C-130J Aircraft Rave Reviews
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
The C-130J is the latest addition to the C-130 fleet, bringing state-of-the-art technology to the tactical cargo- and personnel-transport aircraft that's been in the Air Force inventory since 1954.
The J model's future had been in question when the Pentagon initially acted to cancel the program, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld restored it to the fiscal 2006 budget request earlier this month.
Rumsfeld's decision got a resounding "thumbs up" from crews who've flown the C-130J and can barely stifle their enthusiasm for the new plane.
"From a pilot's perspective, this aircraft is just phenomenal," said Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Blalock, who's been flying the J model for three years. He's the acting commander of the 48th Airlift Squadron here, which began offering formal training on the C-130J in February 2004.
The standardized program, with a dedicated cadre, replaces unit-level conversion training, which had initially been offered on the aircraft since it first entered the inventory.
Sitting on the tarmac, the J model doesn't look much different from earlier-generation models. It's 15 feet longer, which gives it the capability to carry 36 more troops or two more pallets, and has six rather than four blades on each propeller.
But step inside the cockpit and the differences are clear. The J model features a streamlined instrument board, digital avionics, a heads-up display, and state-of-the-art navigation systems.
The heart of the system, a mission computer, handles many of the functions crewmembers once did manually. During an emergency, for example, these systems "will tell us about a problem and correct it or take care of it before we can even take out the checklist," said Blalock.
These systems are so automated that they've eliminated two of the five crewmember positions on the C-130: those of the navigator and flight engineer.
The J model, with more horsepower than previous C-130s, "climbs like a rocket" on takeoff, Blalock said, a big plus when leaving a high-threat area. It also flies farther at a higher cruise speed and takes off and lands in a shorter distance than older C-130s. "The engines and props give you tremendous power and capability," Blalock said.
While raving about its power, Blalock said one of the best features of the J model is the increased situational awareness its glass heads-up display panel provides. "It tells the pilot everything that's going on in the airplane, but also lets you look outside the aircraft, so you know what's going on around you," he said.
In addition, an enhanced cargo-handling system improves loading and unloading operations.
"It's way, way more user-friendly, like it was designed by a pilot," said Air Force Capt. Jill Browning, a 48th Airlift Squadron instructor.
Browning admits she was "initially very skeptical" about the J model aircraft, but became a believer the first time she took the controls. "It's amazing how much more capable this aircraft is, and the situational awareness it gives you is just awesome," she said.
"We're pretty excited about it, and we absolutely love flying it," Browning said. She admits that with so many crews at Little Rock Air Force Base flying E and H models of the C-130, "we try not to sound too enthusiastic about it so it looks like we're gloating."
"Going from those planes to this is an incredible leap," said Air Force Maj. Dave Flynn, an evaluator pilot for the 48th Airlift Squadron's C-130J training course. Flynn has piloted both the E and H models.
The J model "is an awesome airplane," Flynn said. "I love it."
"It's a great airplane," agreed Air Force Capt. Mark Suckow, who's been flying the J model for more than two years with the 815th Airlift Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. "I sure wouldn't want to go back to another plane."
Suckow, who initially received unit-level conversion training on the C-130J, is now at Little Rock Air Force Base attending the 48th Airlift Squadron's J course.
The squadron currently has three aircraft for its training and expects to get four more by year's end.
The J model initially went into production in 1997, with the first models going to the United Kingdom and Australia.
Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve squadrons were the first U.S. units to receive the C-130J aircraft. The first J model went to the active Air Force in April 2004, the same month the U.S. Marine Corps accepted its first KC-130J tanker/transporter.
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