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C-130J conducts first-ever combat airdrop

by Staff Sgt. Chyenne A. Griffin
U.S. Central Command Air Forces Forward Public Affairs

7/1/2005 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- Air Force history was made June 30 when the newest addition to the cargo fleet proved its capabilities during the first-ever C-130J Hercules combat airdrop.

The new J-model aircraft has been put to the test on various missions both at home and abroad on numerous occasions to ensure it meets all requirements and continues to maintain its reputation as the Air Force’s workhorse.

Another perfect opportunity presented itself when Army ground forces requested civic assistance and troop re-supply drops in Afghanistan, officials said. The Combined Air Operations Center air mobility division went to work on the day’s air tasking order to match the right aircraft to the job: the C-130J.

“As coalition ground forces interact with the local people, they are constantly on the lookout to improve local health and welfare,” said Army Chief Warrant Officer John Robinson, CAOC battlefield coordination detachment plans officer. “The air component has been extremely supportive in pre-positioning both aid bundles and aircraft to quickly meet the needs of the ground component. Afghans, particularly women and children, benefit from this vital assistance.”

A cast of many came together to ensure this mission’s success. A crew from the Rhode Island Air National Guard's 143rd Air Wing at Quonset-Holland ANG Base and deployed to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing flew this first J-model airdrop mission. This deployment of the C-130J into Southwest Asia since June 7 is the second time the new model has been in the U.S. Central Command theater of operations.

Behind the scenes, maintainers did what they do best, ensuring preparedness – even changing out an important component on the morning of the mission.

Officials, including those from requirements, intelligence, tactics, flight following and air traffic control, have a stake in every mission flown and had placed a keen eye on this test of the J-model’s credibility.

When the aircraft lifted its wheels off the tarmac and pointed its blunt nose towards Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan to pick up the day’s load, all minds were on the mission at hand, officials said. Army ground personnel were waiting on the ramp to load approximately 16,000 pounds of aid bundles -- which included food, water, tools, blankets, school and work supplies for villagers and food and water for coalition ground troops -- into the mammoth belly of the aircraft. Its “stretch” capacity provides for two additional pallet positions.

“Anything that comes off an airplane with a parachute attached is our job,” said Army Chief Warrant Officer 2nd Class Eugenia Emmons, a parachute rigger with Alpha Company 173rd Support Battalion, and one of the support troops waiting on the ground. “It can become monotonous until something like this comes along and you realize that you have a part in a line of supply that can save someone’s life.”

After the cargo was loaded and the parachute riggers and loadmasters ensured everything was set to go, the aircraft once again soared into the air. Everyone then prepared for the airdrops, coordinated to run concurrent with the operational maneuvering of Combined Joint Task Force 76 on the ground.

Master Sgt. Sean Ballard and Tech. Sgt. Kyle Gurnon, the aircraft’s loadmasters, readied the cargo on the way to the first drop zone, also maintaining a watchful eye out of the aircraft’s windows for any sign of anti-Coalition militia.

Then the time had come. The ramp door opened and the aircraft commander dropped the rear of the aircraft slightly to assist the load in sliding smoothly off the rollers and out the back of the plane. The austere terrain of Afghanistan was momentarily blocked by the opening of the chutes, signaling the first successful part of the drop.

“This whole aircraft is still cosmic to me,” said Sergeant Gurnon. “Just coming off (C-130) E-models makes all the little time-savers in this J-model all the more obvious -- the built-in rollers, the (center-line vertical restraint) that guides the bundles out, the electronic locks that ensure we can safely control the cargo locks from several places in the aircraft.”

Before there was even time to think, information came in to the aircrew about the results of the first airdrop and the preparations began for the second.

Once again, the aircraft dropped to the appropriate altitude and the container delivery system bundles slid down to the earth. The loadmasters finally had time for a smile.

“It’s a blast. It just happens so fast you can’t really appreciate it until it’s over,” said Sergeant Gurnon. “Hours of groundwork go into 30 seconds of pure adrenaline when those doors open and you’re coming in on the drop zone.”

All the crewmembers had their initial reservations about the reduced manpower requirements of the new model (two pilots and a loadmaster -- no navigator or engineer), but proper situational awareness and crew resource management ensure the mission actually comes off cleaner, they said.

“I’d rate the J-model at quite a bit more capable than the E-model,” said Lt. Col. Dan Walters, aircraft commander. “(The manufacturer) did a good job of automating tasks that the engineer and navigator perform (in the other models). Although having (fewer) bodies in the cockpit limits your flexibility at times, the advantages well outweigh the risks -- better performance and lighter crew load, which means less people into a danger zone.”

The loadmasters still buzzed around in the rear of the aircraft, returning the plane to its original air-land configuration, as the pilot and co-pilot, Lt. Col. Bernie Duskiewicz, began the route home.

“The mission, intra-theater airlift, couldn’t be done without the C-130. It’s the right airplane for the job,” said Colonel Walters. “It can handle the full gamut of missions -- surface and pavement, dirt landing zones, airdrops -- and it can handle the vast majority of the loads we need to carry. As an aircraft commander, it’s a very credible aircraft to fly and it’s pretty tough to get bored on this plane. Can’t think of anything else I’d rather fly.”

Lt. Col. Brian Jurkovac, 379th Expeditionary Operations Group deputy commander, concurred.

“The contribution to the war effort we provide is profound -- anywhere, anytime, anyplace," he said. "Supporting the warfighter is what we are about, it's all we are about, and we'll do whatever it takes to deliver what he needs to execute his mission. That is the essence of (tactical) airlift and that's what sets us apart from everybody else.”

With the mission successfully complete, the plane landed to find another group waiting on them -- maintenance personnel -- ready to take the plane over again and make sure it is just as good to go the next time around. A mission planner was at work in the CAOC, starting another day's ATO to plan just that.

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